NYC Food by the Numbers: Free Meals in NYC Middle Schools

by nycadmin

Student leaders at a Lunch 4 Learning Press Conference at Tweed Hall on June 4, 2015

Our March 2014 “NYC Food by the Numbers” focused on Lunch4Learning, a campaign for universal free school lunches in NYC. Lunch4Learning, the campaign for universal free meals in all New York City public schools, is working to ensure that the final executive budget for FY16 includes funding for an expansion of the pilot program in middle schools to all students.

Free school lunches were listed as a priority for last year’s city budget by the City Council. However, the program piloted only in stand-alone NYC middle schools. This year, the program has not been included in the City Council’s budget as well, which is due to take effect on July 1, 2015. As the date fast approaches, we present fresh statistics on how the universal school lunches in middle schools have fared so far, and what the implications of <0.03% of the City Council’s budget could look like for food security amongst NYC school children.

In 2015, Community Food Advocates compared school students’ participation in the school lunch program for the first six months of the 2014-2015 school year to the same months in the 2013-2014 school year. Results are presented in the table below.1,2

Months Increase/ Decrease in Middle School Students’ Lunch Participation Increase/Decrease in Elementary and High School Students’ Lunch Participation
September +2.9% +0.7%
October +8.9% +0.02%
November +8.6% -1.2%
December +9.7% -1.2%
January 10.4% 2.6%
February 15.0% 3.0%
  • Middle school pilot showed that from September 2014–February 2014, student participation increased by nearly 10%, when compared to the same months in 2013.2
  • For the same period, elementary and high school lunch participation saw almost no change for the first four months and a slight increase in January and February 2015.1
  • Provision of universal school lunched coincide with increased school lunch participation rates.1
    • In NYC schools with an ongoing universal meals program (under Provision 2 of the National School Lunch Act), lunch participation was 75%.
    • Participation in the universal lunch pilot middle schools was 66.7%.
    • In middle schools that do not offer free lunch to all students, participation was 52.4%.
  • These numbers, in the absence of any other changes in cafeteria environment, mean that over 10,000 more middle school children are choosing to participate in the program.2
  • It is expected that if universal school lunches are expanded citywide, an additional 120,000 students will eat school lunch each day2


  1. Community Food Advocates & Lunch 4 Learning. Positive Impact of Universal Free School Lunch and the “Community Eligibility Provision” (CEP) in New York City Middle Schools.; 2015.
  2. Community Food Advocates & Lunch 4 Learning. Building on Success of Universal Free Lunch in Middle Schools : Mayor de Blasio Should Fund Expansion to All New York City Public School Students.; 2015.
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