School Meals

Why are School Meals Important?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs several meal programs in schools that provide healthy foods to children and teenagers. These programs include the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program. Research suggests that students who participate in school meal programs have positive outcomes. For example, increased student participation in school breakfast programs is linked with increases in concentration and alertness,1 diet quality including fruit consumption,2 and attendance.3 Participation in the National School Lunch Program also provides benefits to students. For example, meals served to students at school have more fruits and vegetables than lunches brought from home.4 Schools can increase participation in meal programs by limiting competitive food options, including taste tests of foods on the menu, using the USDA Smarter Lunchroom tools, and incorporating student input on food favorites.

best practices

Click on a best practice to see model policy language.

+ Schools provide access to the USDA School Breakfast Program

It is clear that the breakfast program is compliant with USDA standards.

  • "The full meal school breakfast and lunch programs will continue to follow the USDA requirements for federal school meals programs." -Waupaca

+ Reimbursible meals comply with USDA nutrition standards

It is clear that the lunch program adheres to USDA standards.

  • “The guidelines for reimbursable school meals are not less restrictive than the guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).”– Waupun Area

+ School meals meet standards that are more stringent than those required by the USDA

The statement is a specific example of a school meal standard that surpasses the minimum USDA standards.

  • “Salt is never added and salt shakers are not put out for students.” – St. Patrick’s Grade School, Mauston

+ District takes steps beyond those required by federal law/regulation to protect the privacy of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals

This sentence clearly shows that the district has implemented the specific strategy of electronic payment in order to protect the identity of students who receive free or discounted lunch.

  • “Schools in our system utilize electronic identification and payment systems, therefore, eliminating any stigma or identification of students eligible to receive free and/ or reduced meals.” – Wilmot

+ USDA National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program standards are described in full

The wellness policy includes a working and current hyperlink to USDA school meal standards.

+ Specifies strategies to increase participation in school meal programs

School is committing to a specific strategy to encourage the consumption of school lunch, students are now able to purchase and eat lunch instead of skipping it for another activity.

  • “Will not schedule tutoring, club, or organizational meetings or activities during mealtimes, unless students or staff may eat during such activities.” – Albany

+ Addresses students leaving school during lunch periods

Clear that students are not permitted to leave campus during lunch periods.

  • “All campuses are ‘closed’ meaning students are not permitted to leave the school grounds during the school day.” – Abundant Life Christian

+ Ensures adequate time to eat

School meets minimum time requirement as it provides 10 minutes for students to eat breakfast and 20 minutes to eat lunch once the student is sitting down.

  • “The district will provide adequate time for students to eat. At least 10 minutes will be provided for breakfast and 20 minutes for lunch from the time the student is seated.” – Colfax

+ Ensures annual training for food and nutrition services staff in accordance with USDA Professional Standards

This statement clearly addresses both the annual requirement as well as the USDA requirement for continuing education.

  • “All school nutrition program staff will meet or exceed hiring and annual continuing education requirements in the USDA professional standards for child nutrition professionals.” – Eau Claire Area

+ Address the school meal environment

This statement uses concrete language to ensure a conducive environment for school meals.

  • "Provide students adequate time and space to eat meals in a pleasant and safe environment.” – Elk Mound

+ Nutrition information for schools meals is available to students and parents

Nutrition information is made readily available to both students and parents online.

  • “Information about the nutrient content of meals is available to parents and students. Such information is available on the district website and by contacting the food service supervisor.” – DeForest

+ Specifies how families are provided information about determining eligibility for free/reduced priced meals

The procedure for providing information about determining eligibility for free/reduced price meals is clear and set in place.

  • “The schools shall annually notify all families of the availability, eligibility requirements, and/or application procedure for free and reduced-price meals by distributing an application to the family of each student enrolled in the school and shall seek out and apply for such Federal, State, and local funds as may be applied to the District's program of free and reduced-price meals.” - Crivitz

+ Recess (when offered) is scheduled before lunch in elementary schools

This sentence uses strong language to be clear that recess proceeds lunch.

  • “Will schedule lunch periods to follow recess periods.” – Birchwood

+ Free drinking water is available during meals

The school offers free drinking water readily available in the cafeteria.

  • “The district will make potable water available to children, without restriction and at no charge, in the place where lunch meals are served.” – DeForest


Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

School Nutrition Outreach Toolkit
Communication guide for school nutrition professionals to promote their school nutrition programs.

Mobilize for Health

School Wellness Policies
More information and resources on school wellness policies and other complementary strategies for community action around childhood obesity prevention.

School Gardens
Resources and Wisconsin examples of how to create and sustain garden-based education programs.

Farm to Institution
Community action resources to help connect schools with farmers to get local, fresh food into the cafeteria.


Schools Team
Connect with a team of partners throughout Wisconsin working to make schools healthier.


Tools for Schools
Topic specific policy and resource materials to assist schools in meeting USDA nutrition requirements. Includes resources for establishing nutrition guidelines, nutrition promotion, and policy guidance.

USDA Reimbursable Meals Guidelines
Information on nutrition standards for school meals, updated policy memos, and guidance materials for schools.


  1. Wahlstrom K, Begalle M. S. More than test scores: Results of the universal school breakfast pilot in Minnesota. Topics in Clinical Nutrition. 1999; 15(1): 17-29.

  2. Au L, Rosen N, Fenton K, Hecht K, & Ritchie L. Eating school lunch is associated with higher diet quality among elementary school students. Journal of the Academy ofNutrition and Dietetics. 2016; 116(11): 1817-1824.

  3. Anzman-Frasca S, Djang H, Halmo M. Estimating impacts of a breakfast in the classroom program on school outcomes. JAMA Pediatrics. 2015; 169(1): 71-77.

  4. Johnston C, Moreno J, El-Mubasher A, Woehler D. School lunches and lunches brought from home: A comparative analysis. Childhood Obesity. 2012; 8(4): 364-368.