Three Breakfast and Lunch Programs in California

California offers lunch and breakfast programs in schools throughout the state to provide children with notorious meals at an affordable price. In addition to the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the California Department of Social Services subsidies the cost of meal services during the summer months. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is beneficial for students who rely on the aforementioned programs during the academic calendar. Find out more about the three meal programs for California school children in the below topics.

What is the SBP in California?

The California School Breakfast Program operates in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions. The SBP is an assisted meal program funded by the federal government and administered by the by the California Department of Education. As a federal school breakfast program, California school and childcare institutions need to follow the SBP regulations in providing healthy, low-cost and free breakfasts for eligible school children on a daily basis.

Breakfast programs in California schools are geared towards helping the many children who do not have the opportunity to eat breakfast at home on a regular basis. These children may have a working parent, a long journey to school or families that are unable to provide enough food due to a low income. SBP regulations require all school breakfasts provided under this program must meet federal nutrition requirements. The benefit of the program is that it keeps children healthy and able to concentrate on their studies during the school day. The benefits of breakfast programs in schools is backed by research, which shows the importance of the relationship between academic performance and breakfast consumption. SBP facilitates the positive relationship that a healthy breakfast has on a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school.

To be part of the free School Breakfast Program in California, families must meet the eligibility requirements. Some households already enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program may automatically be registered for SBP.

Find out more about eligibility for food assistance in California by reviewing our detailed guide.

What is the NSLP in California?

The National School Lunch Program provides children in California with either low-cost or free midday meals to eligible children every school day. When NSLP started in 1946, it provided nutritionally balanced lunches by absorbing farm surpluses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the NSLP regulations that California and other states must follow to receive funding. Each meal served must meet federal nutritional requirements. The NSLP also includes snacks served during afterschool enrichment or educational programs. There are federal lunch programs for schools and residential childcare institutions with children from kindergarten to 12th grade, provided the establishment is in the public or nonprofit sectors.

The lunch programs in schools allow any child to purchase a meal. Families must meet NSLP regulations to qualify for free or discounted meals. National School Lunch Program regulations require that a family must have an income below a certain percentage of the federal poverty level (FPL) in order to qualify for a free or low-cost meal, which has a maximum price that schools can charge for the low-cost option.

All NSLP school lunches must meet federal nutritional standards as well as a meal pattern based on current dietary guidelines. The meal pattern requires the provision of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in the school menu as well as low sodium levels. The National School Lunch Program regulations also require that the meal patterns have specific calorie limits that are appropriate to the age of the children.

Find out how to apply for food benefits in California in our comprehensive guide.

What is Summer Food Service Program in California?

The Summer Food Service Program is a federal summer lunch program in California that provides low-income children with nutritionally balanced meals throughout the summer months when school is not in session. While SFSP was initially part of the School Lunch Act that stemmed the SBP and NSLP, it has since become an independent program.

The CA Summer Food Service Program supplies meals and snacks once or twice each day for children. SFSP service sites are located throughout the state of California, typically close to schools and other public sites. California approves SFSP meals at three site categories:

    • Open sites: These meal sites operate in low-income locations where at least 50 percent of the children live in households with incomes at or below 185 percent of the FPL. This is a free summer lunch program and children will not be required to pay nominal fee even if they normally have a low cost during school.
    • Enrolled sites: These sites provide free meals to children who are enrolled in an activity program at a location where at least 50 percent of the children are eligible for free and low-cost school meals.
  • Camp sites: These sites provide free meals only to children who are eligible for free and low-cost school meals.

If you are wondering, “How can I participate in SFSP?” contact your local county human services department to see if there are currently a SFSP running in your community. If not, you can ask about sponsoring and the requirements for non-profit organizations, schools and local government agency to become involved. You can also mobilize a SFSP by talking to your parent teacher association, school principals and school food service managers. SFSP sites pride themselves on running interesting activities to draw children and teens to their program. These activities include music, arts and crafts, reading, sports, drama, tutoring and mentoring.


What Kind of Assistance Does the Department of Social Services Offer?

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) provides various types of assistance benefits to residents of the state. Through the CDSS, individuals and families can obtain temporary cash assistance, food assistance and more. Furthermore, applicants who are eligible for the benefits of one CDSS program will often qualify for the assistance benefits of another. Find out everything you need to know about the services and benefits provided by the Department of Social Services by downloading our helpful CDSS guide.


Who Can Benefit From California’s Department of Social Services?

To receive benefits from the CDSS, you and your family will need to meet certain eligibility criteria. The criteria used to determine an applicant’s eligibility typically include income, age, resources and citizenship, among other factors. Find out if you qualify for California DSS assistance benefits here.