The National School Lunch Program supports student nutrition in over 101,000 schools and residential facilities. It provides free and reduced priced meals to low-income children before school, during school, after school, and over the summer. In fiscal year 2013, federal school nutrition programs underwrote more than five billion lunches served to nearly 31 million students. Total funding for all nutrition programs sums to $16.3 billion in both cash and commodity payments in fiscal year 2014. School nutrition programs are one of the largest federal funding streams to schools.
The federal government first became significantly involved in school lunches through the Commodity Donation Program of 1936, which aimed to eliminate price-suppressing crop surpluses by distributing excess commodities to schools for meals for students who could not otherwise afford them. In 1946, Congress passed the National School Lunch Act to establish permanently a federally funded school lunch program and improve child nutrition. Since then, the law has expanded to include free and reduced priced breakfast, milk, after-school snacks, and summer meals for qualifying students.