School Food Service Programs


It is becoming more widely known that even in well-to-do neighborhoods, there are families that struggle financially, or families whose schedules do not allow them to provide a nourishing breakfast for their children. Even if this financial, or physical challenge is only intermittent, or temporary, many school districts recognize the reality that not all student’s parents are able to provide them with breakfast before they go to school, and many participate in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and many have also adopted wellness policies for their schools to ensure children in their schools have all their nutritional needs met.


Public schools can provide, maintain, and operate a cafeteria or restaurant for the use of the students and teachers while they are at school (§ 1709(22)). Some schools, under the federal Child Nutrition Act (42 USC § 1771 et seq.) are required to operate a school breakfast program. Generally, school districts may apply for financial assistance to provide free, and reduced-price breakfast to children whose families meet the income requirements, however under New York Law, certain school districts must operate a school breakfast program (L. 1976 c. 537; L. 1980c. 798; L. 1993 c. 615 § 4; 8 NYCRR Part 114). According to New York Law, a city school district whose population is 125,000 or more inhabitants, must participate in the School Breakfast Program.


In addition to the School Breakfast Program, school districts may also elect to participate in the National School Lunch Program (42 USC § 1751 et seq.), which provides free, or reduced-price lunches to children who meet the eligibility requirements based on their family’s income. However, there are some children who automatically qualify for free lunch, regardless of the school’s participation in the National Lunch Program. Examples of students who automatically qualify would be children whose families receive food stamps, children who are homeless, runaway, or migrant children, or children whose families receive temporary assistance for needy families (42 USC § 1758(b)(2)(B)).


School districts who participate in these programs are also required to establish wellness policies for their schools that must contain specific attributes (42 USC § 1758b). These attributes must, at a minimum contain:

  • Specific goals for nutrition promotion, physical activity, education, and other activities to promote student wellness.
  • The standards for food available and sold in schools throughout the day.
  • A plan for measuring the effectiveness of the policy triennially, (once every three years), and the designation of at least one staff member in charge of ensuring the compliance with this policy.
  • A description of how parents, students, and other staff members will participate in the development, implementation, and periodic review of the policy (42 USC § 1758(b); 7 CFR § 210.30).


In addition, a district must retain records to document its compliance with the requirements for establishing, implementing, and assessing the local wellness policy (7 CFR § 210.30(f)), as well a school-based childhood obesity education.


With the implementation of school food service programs, children whose families are in need can receive the nutrition they need, ensuring their wellness and proper nutrition. These programs are backed by wellness policies to ensure that these programs are well balanced, and benefit the child’s needs in the best possible, cost-effective way.  



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