The National School Lunch Act
June 4, 1946
The adoption of the National School Lunch Act (NSLA) represented a significant step toward fuller federal participation in primary and secondary education. Previous federal efforts had involved general financial support through land sales and support for vocational programs and teacher training. With the NSLA, the federal government involved itself in the broader social mission of education. Schools would be the mechanism to ensure adequate nutrition for poor children, and, in turn, healthier children would learn more and better. The NSLA proved both successful and popular, undergoing repeated expansions. Today, it is an integral part of day-to-day operations in most schools, both public and private, affecting more than 26 million schoolchildren each year.
Politically, the adoption of the NSLA was not contentious in the traditional sense—there were no intense floor debates or parliamentary maneuvers in Congress. Rather, the road to passage was one of gradual acceptance across society of the need and propriety of responding publicly to child hunger and malnourishment. The movement began with private, voluntary efforts and continued with a series of efforts on the part of state and city governments, then temporary actions by the federal government, and, finally, a permanent response through the NSLA.
The School Lunch Program created by the NSLA was designed to ensure that all students in primary and secondary education, in