Overview of the Laws Governing Child Nutrition Programs

girl with apple

Federal child nutrition programs provide nutritious foods to children across the nation. While this may seem like a simple task, complex laws, policies and regulations are in place to guide program operations. The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act authorizes all federal child nutrition programs to include:

  • School Breakfast Program (SBP)
  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
  • Special Milk Program (SMP)
  • Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
  • Afterschool Snack Program (ASP)
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program

What laws currently govern child nutrition programs?

The current law governing child nutrition programs is the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. This law was signed in 2010. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the federal agency responsible for implementing the law. The USDA provides guidance and policies to states and states work with school food authorities (SFA) on implementation. States provide training, monitoring and guidance to local SFAs.

How are the laws governing child nutrition programs reviewed?

Reauthorization is the process through which Congress reviews and updates the current laws governing these programs. Reauthorization occurs every five years. The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry is responsible for drafting the Senate’s version of the bill while the Education and Workforce Committee is responsible for drafting the House’s version. Each bill must be passed by their respective legislative body in order to move forward. Once the bill is passed, a small group of legislators known as the Conference Committee merges both versions of the bill into one. The final version is brought before both the Senate and The House of Representatives. Once approved, the final bill is sent to the President for signature. If signed, the bill becomes a law and is implemented nationwide. If vetoed, the bill returns to Congress for either revision or override of the veto.

Why are the laws governing child nutrition programs reviewed?

Updating the laws provides an opportunity to improve and strengthen programs. This process allows for changes based on the most current nutrition research. When the laws were updated in 2010, the nutrition standards for school meals were aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Dietary Guidelines are updated every five years based on the most current research and provide recommendations for Americans on healthful eating. Implementing nutrition policy nationwide is challenging, and reauthorization provides the opportunity to assess implementation and revise policy as needed.     

When will the current laws be updated?

Congress was scheduled to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act in 2016. The Senate and House each proposed reauthorization bills in 2016, but neither of these became law. The current administration is busy working on health care and tax reform, and as a result, it is unlikely that reauthorization of child nutrition programs will occur soon. In the meantime, program will still operate under the current law, the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.

Federal child nutrition programs provide millions of meals every year to children. It is important these laws are reviewed and updated to ensure policies align with the most current nutrition research and meet the needs of program operators. To have your voice heard in the process, contact your U.S. senators and congressional representatives.  


Abigail Galyon, Cornell University  

Amanda Mercer, Colorado Department of Education Office of School Nutrition 


Colorado Department of Education – Child Nutrition Reauthorization

FRAC Child Nutrition Reauthorization

The Path to a New Child Nutrition Act

Contact Federal Elected Officials

“A girl eating an apple on the Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs poster” by U.S. Department of Agriculture is licensed under CC BY 2.0