Early Supports

Early federal aid
As the scope of the meal supply expanded, local governments and school district boards could not provide the funds necessary to carry the increasing load. Supplementary contributions by charitable organizations and individuals did not suffice. Aid from Federal sources became inevitable. The earliest Federal aid came from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932 and 1933 when it granted loans to several towns in southwestern Missouri to cover the cost of labor employed in preparing and serving school lunches. Such Federal assistance was expanded to other areas in 1933 and 1934 under the operations of the Civil Works Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, reaching into 39 States and covering the employment of 7,442 women.

Commodity Donation Program
The depression of the 1930s brought on widespread unemployment. Much of the production of the farm went begging for a market, surpluses of farm products continued to mount, prices of farm products declined to a point where farm income provided only a meager subsistence. Millions of school children were unable to pay for their school lunches, and with but limited family resources to provide meals at home, the danger of malnutrition among children became a national concern.

Public Law 320 passed by the 74th Congress and approved August 24, 1936, made available to the Secretary of Agriculture an amount of money equal to 30 percent of the gross receipts from duties collected under the customs laws during each calendar year.

Needy families and school lunch programs became constructive outlets for the commodities purchased by the USDA under the terms of such legislation. Many needy school children could not afford to pay for lunches and were sorely in need of supplementary foods from a nutritional standpoint. Thus they would be using foods at school which would not otherwise be purchased in the market place and farmers would be helped by obtaining an outlet for their products at a reasonable price. The purchase and distribution program was assigned in 1935 to the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation which had been established in 1933 as the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation to distribute surplus pork, dairy products, and wheat to the needy. These funds came from customs duties and were specifically designated to encourage agricultural surplus consumption via exports and domestic donations. In March 1937, there were 3,839 schools receiving commodities for lunch programs serving 342,031 children daily. Two years later, the number of schools participating had grown to 14,075 and the number of children had risen to 892,259. From 1939 to 1942,the number of schools participating increased by 78,841, and the number of pupils participating increased by 5,272,540.

In July 1943, in an attempt to salvage the deterioration of school lunches, Congress passed Public Law 129 to amend the Agricultural Act of 1935. This law re-established school lunch programs using $60 million to cover the purchase of food, but not labor. The next year, Congress appropriated another $50 million and allowed child-care centers to participate.

Since the Act passed, Congress has modified several aspects of the policy. Congress amended the NSLP in 1962 to adjust fund distribution. They decided that the budget allocated to each state should be influenced by the state's need for further assistance. Rather than just factoring in the number of participants, Congress took into account the state poverty level compared to the national poverty level. Then, in 1968, Congress improved the NSLP food options to accommodate students with special dietary needs.

Most recently, in 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama took on the issue of school lunches. Changes that she initiated primarily focused on more specific nutritional requirements. The changes include updated food group nutrition standards, such as vegetable subgroups, re-adjusted meat and grain serving sizes to reflect different school grade ranges, an implemented requirement for whole grains, and milk-fat restrictions. Lower calorie ranges and a 10-year progressive sodium reduction plan also started in 2012.