My Plate Guide to School Lunch

The Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) Food Service Department participates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA explains the NSLP:

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 100,000 public and non‐profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provided nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2012. In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children in afterschool educational and enrichment programs to include children through 18 years of age. The Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the Federal level. At the State level, the National School Lunch Program is usually administered by State education agencies, which operate the program through agreements with school food authorities.

Under the guidance of the USDA, PPS serves meals that meet stringent nutrition guidelines. The PPS Food Service Department is reimbursed for the meals that are served to students in the district. However, in order to be reimbursed, the meals must meet certain criteria that qualify them as a “reimbursable meal”.

Reimbursable Meals

reimbursable meal

A reimbursable lunch in schools must contain 3 of 5 components. The components offered daily at lunch are grains, meat/meat alternate, fruit, vegetable, milk. A child can decline 2 of the 5 components, but they must take at least 3 components to make a reimbursable meal. In addition, one of the components must be a fruit or a vegetable. The chart to the left can help depict a reimbursable lunch.

A reimbursable breakfast follows the same principal, but is somewhat different. At breakfast, we use a point system to determine a reimbursable meal. Each food item is assigned a different point allotment based on nutrition information. A student is able to choose between 3 and 4 points at breakfast, and one of those points must be a fruit.

Frequently asked questions

Q: What if my child brings a lunch from home, but would like a milk at school?
A: Only reimbursable meals are free for students (3 components at lunch, at least 3 points at breakfast). If a student would like only one component of a school lunch, they can purchase it a la carte. Milk costs $0.50 and other a la carte prices are listed in the schools.

Q: What if my child would like two school lunches?
A: Every student receives their first reimbursable meal for free. If they would like a second meal, it can be purchased based on pricing in the school.

Q: My child is asking for money to spend at lunch. If the lunches are free, why should I send money?
A: Some schools sell Smart Snacks after lunch. These snacks meet special Smart Snack Regulations which include calorie, sodium, fat, and sugar caps.

Q: I would like to know the nutrition information for the items that my child is eating at school. Where can I access that information?
A: That information is available on this website under the “Nutrition” tab, or by clicking here:  2015-2016 Nutrient Information.

If you have other questions about reimbursable meals in schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, please contact Elizabeth Henry at


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