History of the Child Nutrition Act and the importance of reauthorization

By Emma Rotner, Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership student 

For the first time in 10 years, the Child Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization in the legislative session. The Child Nutrition Act was first passed in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. This piece of legislation was instrumental in creating the school meals programs that exist within our nation’s schools today. The program began by piloting serving breakfast in schools and establishing food service equipment within schools. Over the years, more programs and services have been added and amended when the bill has been up for reauthorization (Billings and Aussenberg, 2021). There are 5 major programs that are governed under the Child Nutrition Act; these include: National School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, Summer Food Services Programs, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Special Milk Program. There are also many other smaller programs and grants that fall under the umbrella of this program (FAS, 2019).

The Child Nutrition Act has been extremely beneficial in providing students with food through schools, afterschool programs, and summer programs. In particular, the program has helped to combat childhood food insecurity, by increasing access to food and providing financial assistance through free and reduced meal plans in schools. On average in the 2019-2020 school year, 12.6 million children received a free or reduced breakfast and 21.6 million children received a free or reduced-price lunch at school (Food Research and Action Center, 2020).

Typically, this act is reauthorized every 5 years, however, there has not been a reauthorization of this act since 2010 when the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act was passed. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act amended the Child Nutrition Act by creating provisions that required more nutritious meals to be offered in schools, after-care, and child-care programs, as well as expanding the access of food provided. The Child Nutrition Act was not reauthorized 5 years later in 2015, meaning that the programs under this act expired in 2015. However, funding and operations have continued as usual even though the bill hasn’t been reauthorized. In 2010, the Farm to School Grant Program was also passed under the reauthorization (Billings and Aussenberg, 2021). This led to more support and momentum around farm to school activities. As a result, school districts around the country have increased the amount of fresh and local products that they serve. This bill serves as a great example of what can be possible under the Child Nutrition Act and how it can benefit and improve child nutrition nationwide.

Several bills have been proposed in the current legislative session that would expand and reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act. H.R3115/ S.1530: Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 would amend the Child Nutrition Act by making school breakfasts and lunches free for all students, as well as free summer meals and free afterschool snacks for all children. This bill would also provide a higher reimbursement rate for schools that are procuring local products. Senator Bob Casey proposed S.1270 Access to Healthy Foods for Young Children Act of 2021 that would add to and strengthen the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Other proposed bills that would amend the Child Nutrition Act include: CARE for Kids Act, which would expand the prerequisites to qualify for free meals and the Summer Meals Act, which would expand and strengthen the Summer Food Service Program (Vollinger et al., 2021).

 If passed, these proposed bills have the opportunity to reauthorize and expand upon the current child nutrition programs. Reauthorizing these bills by passing the Child Nutrition Act would be instrumental in ensuring that kids in communities around the country have access to the nourishment that they need each and every day in order to be successful. 


Billings, K. C., & Aussenberg, R. A., Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR): An Overview (2021). Congressional Research Service . 

Congress.Gov. (2021, May 11). All Info - H.R.3115 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021. Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3115/all-info. 

School Nutrition Association . (n.d.). SNA History & Milestones. https://schoolnutrition.org/aboutsna/historymilestones/. 

Vollinger, E., Hartline-Grafton, H., & FRAC President Luis Guardia and FRAC Legal Director Ellen Vollinger. (2021, July 2). Bills We're Supporting. Food Research & Action Center. https://frac.org/action/bills-we-are-supporting.

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