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.

The Federal School Breakfast Program in Virginia

The free School Breakfast Program in Virginia was permanently added to the roster of federal meal programs for school children in 1975 in recognition that students distracted by hunger or who lack proper nutrition are less likely to succeed in education than their well-fed peers. Parents wondering, “What is the SBP going to serve my child?” can take confidence in knowing that although each school is authorized to write its menus, all school meals must meet SBP regulations set by the federal government. Federal guidelines for breakfast programs in schools require that schools distinguish between age groups and offer students meals that are appropriate to their nutritional needs in calorie count, sodium content and other nutritional factors. The USDA distributes numerous educational and reference resources each year to assist schools in designing and supplying balanced meals that contain foods students want to eat. Find out more about the meal requirements in our comprehensive food-assistance guide.

Participating schools may implement the federal School Breakfast Program using one or more of several recommended models. Most school breakfast programs are offered exclusively in the cafeteria or equivalent before the school day starts. It is the most likely to incorporate hot breakfast items and best accommodates the incorporation of “extra” items for students seeking variety or with higher nutritional or caloric intake needs. The SBP “Breakfast in the Classroom” model maximizes student participation rates and has been observed to reduce the stigma associated with program eligibility by serving breakfast, often to all students, in classrooms at the beginning of the school day. The free School Breakfast Program’s “Grab and Go” model is generally most appropriate for high schools or charter schools with unique or non-uniform scheduling arrangements, older students or less traditionally structured facilities. Schools typically base their choice of delivery method on factors including the percentage of the school’s population eligible for free or reduced-cost meals, the facility’s physical structure and existing staffing and the perceived overall need for improved nutrition and healthy habits among the student body.

The National School Lunch Program in Virginia

Parents questioning, “What is the NSLP and why am I getting a notice about it?” will find that they are being advised about the National School Lunch Program due to either their eligibility status or as part of a routine notification to all parents at the beginning of a new school year. NSLP regulations require that certain messaging be provided to parents and students throughout the school year to promote participation among eligible students and families. However, families of children who qualify can initiate the school meal application process anytime throughout the school year.

When NSLP started in 1946, it was intended to secure the health and educational success of schoolchildren across the nation through adequate nutrition. Both guidelines and resources for administering federal lunch programs for schools have increased substantially in the intervening years. The National School Lunch Program now serves more than 30.4 million children each year, providing nutritionally balanced meals and snacks during lunch periods and afterschool enrichment activities. The USDA provides cash reimbursements and food from its store of agricultural surpluses to assist schools in covering the costs of the program. NSLP menus are closely monitored for compliance with nutritional guidelines, portion sizes and participation rates. Above and beyond baseline nutritional requirements, NSLP regulations promote and prioritize the incorporation of fresh produce and other nutrient-dense menu items. Particular attention is paid to those types of foods in communities where they are least likely to be available to students at home. Efforts are routinely made by the federal, state and local agencies involved in implementation to adapt and refine the program to better meet the needs of students who meet the requirements for free or reduced-cost school meals.

The Summer Food Service Program in Virginia

The free summer lunch program in Virginia is a response to the understanding that children and youth from low-income or at-risk households continue to require food and nutritional assistance when school is not in session. The federal summer lunch program provides meals to youths 18 years of age or younger over the summer when they cannot access other free or reduced-cost school meal programs. Like the academic-year meal programs, the Summer Food Service Program is administered by Virginia’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Food Programs in partnership with sponsor agencies and community sites. All SFSP sponsor sites are required to be open to every eligible participant. Discrimination of any kind is prohibited.

Interested families wondering, “What is Summer Food Service Program all about?” will find that it largely and neatly parallels the NSLP that eligible students participate in during the school year. SFSP meals are required to meet the same health, safety and nutrition standards established for the NSLP. Free summer lunch program meals may even be available from the school that children attend during the academic year if the school or district elects to be a sponsoring agency or site for the program. In addition to schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, not-for-profit community organizations and local-level government agencies may also serve as sponsor agencies or offer their facilities as delivery sites. Other common delivery sites include churches, health clinics, community centers and parks. Sponsor agencies are responsible for ensuring that each site is supervised, safe and free of discrimination for all eligible participants. However, the application process for SFSP in camps may vary. Find out more about applying for food assistance in our comprehensive guide.

Families asking, “How can I participate in SFSP?” can expect to receive information from their local school district near the end of the academic year on how to find and access local delivery sites. Most sites openly advertise their participation as well. In the event that families are not proactively provided information about summer meal programs, they can contact their local school districts or the Virginia Department of Education for assistance in locating and utilizing a program site near them.

Virginia Department of Social Services