National School Lunch Week: USDA Serves 224 Billion Since 1971

President Joe Biden recently declared this week as National School Lunch Week. The annual declaration highlights how school meals remain a vital lifeline, supplying well-balanced, free or low-cost meals to kids across the country since the program began in 1946. USDA’s Economic Research Service also released a report analyzing data on school lunch meals served. USDA found that between 1971 and 2021, the National School Lunch Program served about 224 billion meals. Of these meals, 126.4 billion were served for free or at a reduced price. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 interrupted the operations of many schools through fiscal years 2020 and 2021. As a result, about 3.2 billion lunches were served through the program in 2020 and 2.2 billion in 2021, fewer than the 4.9 billion in 2019. The drop reflects the use of a USDA pandemic waiver allowing schools to serve meals through the Summer Food Service Program and the creation of the temporary Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program.

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