Keep reading below to find out more about how these programs work.

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Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
8th grade girl going through the cafeteria line to get her afterschool meal

The CACFP provides funding to help offset the cost of providing healthy meals to infants, children, teens, and adults in a variety of care settings, including afterschool programs.

The At-Risk Afterschool Meals component of the CACFP, commonly known as the Afterschool Meals Program, allows educational or enrichment programs in eligible low-income areas to serve a meal and/or snack each day to kids and teens ages 18 and under. Since the meal must be served after the bell on school days, the most common meal served through this program is supper. As a result, sometimes the program is known simply as "the supper program." However, programs that operate on weekends, holidays, or other breaks during the school year can provide any one meal as well as a snack. No enrollment or eligibility information is required from children or families, and all meals and snacks are reimbursed at the highest rate. However, programs may require enrollment in the enrichment activity, and they may charge a reasonable fee for it.

The Afterschool Meals Program is open to schools, community-based non-profit organizations and certain for-profit child care providers. Each participating location must be within the attendance boundary of a public elementary, middle or high school where at least half of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The Afterschool Meals Program does not provide reimbursements when school is not in session except in areas with a year-round school calendar. Most participating organizations can transition to one of the summer nutrition programs. For additional information on operating the Afterschool Meals Program, you can read the USDA’s At-Risk Afterschool Meals Handbook.

The Outside-School-Hours Care component of the CACFP is an option for afterschool programs that do not qualify as area-eligible based on the 50 percent threshold for in-boundary schools. However, meals are reimbursable only for children ages 12 and under. In addition, programs must collect enrollment and eligibility documentation, and meals are reimbursed according to each child’s eligibility status. Although Outside-School-Hours Care programs may not operate on weekends only, they can operate on weekends in addition to weekdays, and they are also eligible to serve up to two meals and one snack daily.

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National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
two girl eating lunch

The NSLP primarily provides funding for lunches served to students during the school day, but it can also fund snacks served after the final bell.

The NSLP Area-Eligible Snack Program is most similar to the CACFP Afterschool Meals Program in that it makes snacks available free of charge to all kids, regardless of their school meal eligibility status, through afterschool educational or enrichment programs. Each location must qualify as area-eligible based on the 50 percent threshold for in-boundary schools. Unlike the CACFP Afterschool Meals Program, there is no option for a supper, and snacks can only be served on days that school is in session.

The Afterschool Snack Program through the NSLP allows schools that do not meet the area-eligibility threshold to serve snacks. In this case, snacks are reimbursed according to each child’s eligibility status as determined through the school meal benefit application.  

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Both the CACFP and NSLP are administered at the federal level by the USDA and in each state and territory by a designated agency. The host agency may or may not be the same in each state. To learn more about how these programs and their afterschool components are run at the state level, read the Center for Best Practices report State Agency Administration of Afterschool Snack and Meal Programs. You can also visit the USDA website to find out which agencies house the CACFP and NSLP in your state.

For additional background on the history and participation trends of these programs, see the Center for Best Practices’ report To Meet Need, Growth in Afterschool Snacks and Meals Must Continue. This is a first-of-its-kind look at state-level data over time for afterschool nutrition programs. Read the overview Understanding Afterschool Snacks and Meals to learn more about the similarities and differences in requirements between these programs.

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