In 2016, 73 percent of USDA school lunches were free or reduced price

A bar chart showing the number of children participating in the National School Lunch Program on a typical school day, by certification status, fiscal 1986 to 2016.

On a typical school day in fiscal 2016, 30.4 million children participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program and 73 percent of them received the meals for free or at a reduced price. The number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches has grown from 18.5 million in 2008 to 22.1 million in 2016. Some of this increase may be attributable to the 2007-09 recession and the slow recovery that followed. Declining incomes likely led more families to qualify and/or apply for free or reduced-price lunches. In addition, since 2014, the Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has made it possible for more schools to offer free meals to all their students. Between 2008 and 2011, the increase in free and reduced price participation more than offset the decline in full-price participation, with total participation increasing from 31.0 million to 31.8 million children daily. After 2011, however, declining full-price participation resulted in total daily participation falling. This chart appears in the Child Nutrition Programs topic page on the ERS Web site, updated on October 2, 2017.

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