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Free School Meals for All Children

Sep 27, 2017, 10:51 AM

Sound too good to be true? It’s not! Alison Maurice from the Food Research Action Committee (FRAC) explains what the Community Eligibility Provision is, how to tell if your school is eligible, and how to advocate for CEP in your school.

How are schools able to offer meals to all of their students for free?

In the 2016–2017 school year, over 20,000 schools provided free school breakfast and lunch to nearly 10 million children in the United States through the Community Eligibility Provision. Community eligibility allows high-need schools and districts to offer meals at no cost to all students.

Community eligibility has only been available nationwide for three years. In that short time, nearly 55 percent of eligible schools have chosen to use community eligibility, because it increases the number of students benefiting from the school breakfast and lunch programs.

Why are schools so eager to participate in community eligibility?

Because it makes it easy to get meals to students! By offering meals to all students at no charge, community eligibility increases participation among all students which can help school nutrition finances.  Additionally, schools no longer need to qualify students for free or reduced-price school meals. This saves significant time and reduces paperwork for schools, so they can focus more resources on providing healthy meals for your children. Unpaid meal fees are no longer a concern with community eligibility, which decreases stress both on parents and school staff collecting them.

Community eligibility schools have increased participation in the school breakfast and lunch programs. More importantly, more students are eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, reducing hunger and improving nutrition status. School breakfast has shown to improve academic achievement, test scores, and behavior, and to reduce absenteeism and tardiness. Participating in school breakfast allows students to focus on learning, rather than their empty stomachs.

What makes a school or school district eligible?

A school, group of schools, or school district is eligible for community eligibility if at least 40 percent of the students are certified to receive free school meals. Schools identify students who qualify for free meals through other assistance program enrollment. No application is needed to be submitted by parents for schools to determine this.

What can I do to help my school?

On May 1, 2017, your state’s education agencies published a list of schools and school districts that qualify for community eligibility. It is easy to find out if your school or school district is eligible by using the Food Research & Action Center’s Community Eligibility Database. Here you can quickly search for schools by state and district and to determine if your school is eligible and participating or not.

If you find that a school or schools in your school district is eligible for community eligibility but is not using this program, start a conversation with your school administrators and nutrition department. Let them know that you would like them to consider community eligibility. The deadline to apply to use community eligibility in the 2017–2018 school year is June 30, 2017.

Last, but not least, pass these resources along to your school administrators or nutrition department to educate others about the benefits of community eligibility even further:

With these resources, you can help increase access to school meals for all students, giving them much-needed nutrition to succeed.

This blog was prepared by Alison Maurice, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst, at the Food Research & Action Center. For more information, feel free to email Alison at