The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the country's second-largest food assistance program, serving free or reduced-price meals to 30 million students daily. A growing number of schools and districts offer Universal Free Meals (UFM), which provides free meals to all students regardless of income. This brief summarizes findings examining the relationship between exposure to UFM in kindergarten and attendance and weight outcomes in NYC students from grades K-3. The results demonstrate that children who receive free meals through UFM in kindergarten have better school attendance than those who do not. In addition, there is no evidence that receipt of free meals in kindergarten affects weight outcomes.

Document Type

Research Brief


Food Security, Children's Health, National School Lunch Program


Education Policy | Health Policy | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration






The authors acknowledge support from the Lerner Center Faculty Fellows Grant Program. We would like to thank the New York City Department of Education and the Office of School Food for data access and their continued support for this project. We also thank Meryle Weinstein, Willy Chen, and Stephanie Potts for their wisdom and support, as well as seminar and conference participants at Syracuse University, AEFP, RECS, and APPAM for useful comments and suggestions. Special thanks to Shannon Monnat and Alexandra Punch for their help in editing this brief. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the New York City Department of Education.


Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion & Population Health

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.