Free lunch and reduced price lunches are available in many schools and in many countries. Some countries offer free lunch with no qualification. These include countries like Finland, Sweden and India. India has one of the oldest free lunch programs, and dates back to offering students lunches for free to the 1920s.
In other countries, free lunch is determined by income, and this is where the question comes in, as to whether a child is eligible for free or reduced priced lunches. In the US for instance, eligibility is based on income as determined on a national level, and all public schools must offer free or reduced price lunches to qualifying children. Note that rates are adjusted yearly, so if your child is not eligible one year and your income doesn’t change, he or she might be eligible the next year, or if you have another child, it can change your eligibility. There is some dispute about whether income levels are rated high enough, especially in areas where cost of living is very high.
For the school year 2008-2009, the national free lunch program determined that a family of four (two adults, two kids) could make an annual income of no more than $27,560 US Dollars (USD), to qualify for free lunch. Reduced price lunch, usually about less than half a dollar a day, was available in that school year for families making no more than $39,220 USD. These are respectively 130% and 185% of poverty levels. Both Alaska and Hawaii have higher limits. These numbers will fluctuate on a yearly basis, so it’s important to check the guidelines for your state each year.
Certain types of income do not count. If you receive food stamps, or are part of the WIC program, this is not considered income for the purpose of determining free lunch status. Mainly, schools will ask to see proof of current income in the form of paycheck stubs. As mentioned, some believe these income levels are too low.
A child living in a major city in New York or California may have parents paying exceptionally high rents in ratio to their income. While the qualifying amounts may be considered fair in other less expensive areas, income limitations in expensive areas do tend to raise the question as to whether determination for lunch ought to be based on a city-by-city or state-by-state basis. It’s certainly true that a family of four living in San Francisco, might find even $50,000 USD per year extremely inadequate to meet their expense needs, and yet their children would not qualify for free or reduced price lunch under national program guidelines.
There are some programs that are not federally funded that aim to provide lunch, and even sometimes breakfast to any children who need it during the summer months. There may be no qualification requirements for these children except to get them to the location where food is being served. Many public schools have also started serving breakfast to kids, since some children may not be able to count on breakfast at home. Qualifications in the US for breakfast programs usually match those for lunch programs.