Food and Nutrition for School Children in Virginia

Food and nutrition services in Virginia benefitting children in public, charter and private schools are administered by the Virginia Department of Education’s (DOE) Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Food Programs. The DOE manages three major child nutrition programs in Virginia that provide free and reduced price meals for eligible schoolchildren year round. These federally funded programs are overseen by the USDA and utilize cash subsidies and surplus USDA foodstuffs to help schools and other sponsor agencies provide healthy, nutritionally balanced meals to students in elementary, middle and high schools throughout the state. During the school year, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) provide qualifying students with regular, portion-appropriate meals for their ages and nutritional and energy needs. When school is not in session, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) continues to meet student and family nutritional needs.

Eligibility for free and reduced price meals is automatic for students who are considered pre-qualified by their eligibility for and receipt of assistance under other government assistance programs. However, it is not universal. Although some school food and nutrition services in Virginia may elect to provide free meals for their entire school populations, most schools require that families complete and submit applications documenting their eligibility for benefits under established income guidelines or other qualifying factors.

Child nutrition programs in Virginia can take a variety of forms. The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, in particular, offer participating schools numerous potential models through which to deliver meals and related services. Each model is designed to accommodate different student populations, variables in institutions’ physical facilities, the diversity of school scheduling formats and other characteristics of schools and their students that can directly impact the effectiveness and accessibility of federal meal programs. The Summer Food Service Program uses a distinct a model that allows it to adapt to the unique combinations of sponsor agencies and delivery sites necessary to adequately deliver meals to at-risk populations outside of the school environment. Regardless of the program or model in question, all child nutrition programs in Virginia are prohibited from discriminating against any eligible child or family and must meet federally mandated standards for safety, nutrition and health at all times. For comprehensive information about food-assistance programs in Virginia, download our detailed guide.

Three Breakfast and Lunch Programs in Virginia

The School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in Virginia provide free or reduced-cost meals to students from low-income families to ensure that they receive the nutrition they need to succeed in school. Through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), eligible students can continue to receive low- or no-cost meals during the summer when they are not attending school. These federally funded programs are overseen by the USDA and administered in Virginia by the state’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Food Programs in partnership with individual schools or institutions. Under each program, meals are made available to students attending public, charter and some private schools as well as in certain residential living facilities for youth. Read More

Breakfast and Lunch Program Eligibility in Virginia

National School Lunch Program requirements in Virginia specify that all applicants must be residents of the state. Eligibility for National School Lunch Program benefits further requires that applicants be students enrolled in qualifying and participating public or private schools. Students at some residential educational facilities may also qualify. Once those preliminary requirements have been met, qualifying for school breakfast program benefits and eligibility for NSLP meals is determined by a family’s income as a percentage of the federal poverty level. “What are the requirements for the School Breakfast Program?” is often one of the first questions asked by families unfamiliar with the SBP and other federal food and nutrition programs. Many applicants are unaware that SBP guidelines have been aligned with National School Lunch Program regulations in an effort to streamline application processes. Families and students who qualify for one program will qualify for the other. In addition, some students and their families will be considered categorically eligible for services under the School Breakfast Program, National Student Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program. Categorically eligible students are students whose families are already receiving services under other federally funded programs or who have been legally recognized as homeless, migrant or as falling in another qualifying legal category. Read More

Breakfast and Lunch Program Applications in Virginia

A free school lunch application in Virginia may be requested, completed and submitted to the appropriate school or district officials at any time during an academic year. Families of schoolchildren may receive assistance in applying for free school meals from government agencies, schools or partnering community and faith-based organizations from which they are already receiving services. Virginia residents are more likely to achieve high levels of success by utilizing all available resources. As a result, government agencies providing direct assistance to needy families often work with schools to identify families potentially eligible for federal child nutrition program benefits and coordinate efforts to assist those families in applying for all programs for which they qualify. A National School Lunch Program application does not necessarily have to be submitted by all families who qualify for and wish to receive benefits. Although application rules and procedures may vary between schools, categorically eligible students and families are often permitted to provide documentation of enrollment in qualifying federal assistance programs in place of completing an application for federal child nutrition program benefits. Read More

Breakfast and Lunch Program Denials in Virginia

A School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program denial decision in Virginia can occur for many reasons. Learning how to appeal a NSLP denial is often a task applicants who have been refused benefits need to become aware of if they believe the determination to be erroneous or discriminatory. Federal food and child nutrition program regulations require that all applicants be properly notified of their application disposition under the School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program or Summer Food Service Program, regardless of whether the application was approved or denied. USDA guidelines also require that information about the SBP and NSLP denial appeal process be supplied to all applicants not approved for benefits. Applicants’ rights are strongly protected under federal assistance program regulations, and all applicants can expect fair and nondiscriminatory handling of their cases in the event that they decide to pursue an appeal. Read More


Virginia Department of Social Services