New Hanover County Schools


Engaging Students, Achieving Excellence


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Debit Policy?

In our cafeterias, a debit card system is used for collecting money.  This system is designed  to establish accounts for all students to identify them correctly as they reach the cashier.  This ensures that students are recorded properly as receiving free, reduced or full pay meals.
The computer-based system also keeps a record of all transactions by assigned account numbers so account balances can be monitored.   Additionally, the debit card system is used to track prepaid accounts for those customers that pay in advance.   

What can I expect to pay for school meals?

Meal Prices


Grade Level



Pre-K - 8



9th - 12th



Reduced Pay Students (All Grade)




A la carte

A la carte

Milk Only






Adults may purchase food at al a carte prices.
A complete lunch includes one entree, choice of two vegetables and/or fruits, bread and choice of milk.
A variety of milk is available at breakfast and lunch.
Modified menus for special dietary needs are available with a completed diet order form from a physician or recognized medical authority.


Are children allowed to charge meals?

Students are not allowed to charge a la carte items such as ice cream.   Bills will be sent home with students, mailed or emailed to the household.   Students cannot buy a la carte items when they owe a balance on their accounts.  Any monies will be applied toward unpaid charges and change from future cash sales will also be applied toward the unpaid charges.
The school Principal will be given a balance due report.

Does the Child Nutrition Department cater Board of Education functions?

Yes.  The Child Nutrition Department has two staff members who cater many functions ranging from formal dinners to breakfast meetings.  Contact Christine Margus at 910-254-4147 or for further information or to book your next event.  We are restricted to catering Board of Education related functions.

Are parents allowed to bring food items into school?

Yes, but as a general rule, it is always best to check with the school Principal.  Other potentially hazardous food items cannot be prepared at home and served to students.  However, party trays purchased from a commercial licensed facility will be allowed.  Foods prepared in a domestic setting cannot be served in a school kitchen.  Also, donated potentially hazardous foods will not be accepted for use in school fund-raising activities.  It is recommended that these items be purchased through the school cafeteria.  It is also recommended that parents contact our catering  department (910-254-4147) and make arrangements to cater your next event whether it is for the classroom or for fundraising.  It is further recommended that only healthy snacks be used to celebrate birthdays, etc.

How do you determine what is served or sold in the school lunchroom?

The Child Nutrition Department complies with all federal and state guidelines pertaining to the National School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs.  All  menus are analyzed for their nutritional content to ensure that all meals have no more than 35% of calories from fat and less than 10% calories from saturated fat.  Items sold as a la carte contain less than 35%  calories from fat, less than 10% from saturated fat and no more than 35% sugar added by weight.  

Why do children have to take extra items even if they don't plan on eating them?

Students must choose three or four food items offered at breakfast and three, four or five meal components offered at lunch for USDA to consider it a complete meal. USDA requires a complete meal be taken in order for Child Nutrition to receive reimbursement,  It is also important for children to take a full meal in order to benefit from a variety of nutrients.

Why do adults pay more for meals than students?

The reason the student meal is offered at a lower price is because each student meal is subsidized by the Federal Government.  USDA provides a reimbursement for each student meal that meets a specific meal pattern.  Schools do not receive USDA reimbursement for adult meals.  Therefore, the cost set for adult meals must cover the complete cost of producing the meal.  Adults may purchase their meals al a carte and pay the same al a carte prices as students.

Is there anyway to get the nutritional analysis of food items?

The Nutritionist in Child Nutrition can provide information on the daily and weekly menu analysis upon request.  You can also find carbohydrate counts on the website under "nutritional information."

Do school meals cause childhood overweight and obesity?

The causes of childhood overweight and obesity are complex and multi-factored:  parent eating behaviors, lack of exercise, increased TV, video game and computer time, increased  advertising to kids, etc.  Before children reach their second birthday, many American children are developing the same eating habits that plague the nation's adults; too much fat, sugar and salt and too few fruits and vegetables.  Schools have to meet the USDA meal guidelines for 35% or less total fat and 10% or less saturated fats.

New Hanover Child Nutrition has:

  • Eliminated fried foods in elementary and middle schools
  • Decreased fat, and increased fiber
  • Purchased more whole wheat food items.
  • Maintain the USDA requirements on all food items, including a la carte items. 

Are schools required to make menu substitutions for children who cannot eat the regular breakfast or lunch?

Federal law and the regulations for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast program require schools to make accommodations for children who are unable  to eat the school meal as prepared because of a disability.  In order to make substitutions for items in reimbursable meals, the school must have on file a written statement  signed by a licensed physician indicating what the child's disability is, what foods must be omitted and what foods must be substituted.  The purpose of requiring a written statement is two-fold.  First, it ensures that the nutrition integrity of the school meal will not be comprised by the substitution.  More importantly, it ensures that decisions about specific food substitutions are made by persons who are highly qualified to prescribe them.  

How do I get meal substitutions or special nutritional needs met for my child?

You may obtain a Diet Order from the school nurse or on our website: . The Diet Order must be completed by your child's doctor each year and turned in to the cafeteria manager or Child Nutrition Services.  Once the completed order is received, the Nutritionist in Child Nutrition Services will give instructions to the cafeteria manager and contact the parents as needed.

Why do you serve flavored milk at school?

USDA requires 1% milk and a variety of milks be offered at all meals.  Studies have found that students who drank flavored milk had higher intakes of milk and calcium and they drank fewer soft drinks and sweetened fruit drinks than students who didn't drink flavored milk.  Researchers have found that the choice of flavored milk is far superior to another beverage that is totally void of other nutrients.  Flavored low-fat milk is proven to be a nutritious choice to help combat calcium deficiencies among children.

Are students allowed unlimited portions of food at breakfast and lunch?

No, students are entitled to one meal at breakfast and one meal at lunch from the Offer versus Serve meal patterns.  Additional food items or second meals may be purchased at a la carte prices.

Can I receive a reimbursement of the money on my child's account?

Reimbursement of money on accounts will be honored only when students are leaving the New Hanover County School system.  Reimbursements will be made of balances below $10.00 at the cafeteria.  Refunds for more than $10.00 are made by check and take a minimum of three weeks for processing.  When your child transfers to another New Hanover County school, the money on his/her account will be transferred to the cafeteria at that school. 

Can teachers or other school personnel restrict what a child selects from foods offered in the cafeteria?

No, what a child selects is a decision made by the child and their parents.

May school lunch be withheld or restricted as a discipline method?

No, the National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 prohibits school food authorities from denying a meal to any eligible child as a disciplinary measure. 

Why should I complete the Application for Free and Reduced Priced Meals?

The form allows students from eligible households to receive free or reduced-priced meals throughout the school year.  In addition, the forms are the basis for claiming and distributing important funding from the state and federal governments for your child's school. A new application must be submitted each school year.

Who can get Free or Reduced Price meals?

Children in households receiving SNAP/FNS, Cash Assistance or FDPIR can get free meals regardless of household income.  If your household is within the limits on the Federal Income Chart, your children can receive free or reduced-price meals.  A foster child or child living in a group home may be eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals regardless of household income.

How do I apply for my child?

Complete the Family Meal Application for Free and Reduced-Price Meals.  You only need to complete one application per household.  Incomplete applications cannot be processed and will be returned to you. 

Where do I send my completed application?

You may return completed applications to your child's school or mail to New Hanover County Schools, Child Nutrition Department, 1802 S. 15th Street, Wilmington , NC  28401.  Meal applications will be processed by the Child Nutrition Office.  You will be notified by mail after your child's application has been processed.

Will the information on the Free and Reduced-Price Meal Application be checked?

Yes, we may ask you to send written proof of the information given.

If I don't qualify now, may I apply later?

Yes, you may apply for free or reduced price meals anytime during the school year.  If you are not eligible now, but have a change in your household status, like a decrease in household income, an increase in household size, become unemployed or get food stamps, TANF for your child, complete an application at that time. 

If a student consistently does not bring meal money, may the student be placed on free meal benefits?

No, Free or Reduced-Price meal benefits are to be granted through the appropriate meal application process or Direct Certification.

If a class decides to have a Pizza Party instead of eating in the cafeteria, is this legal?

No, Federal and State regulations prohibit this even if the food is being donated and no child is charged for the meal.  Child Nutrition Services must operate all food and beverage services during meal time.  Please contact Child Nutrition Services for planning special event meals.

What is the Healthy-Hunger Free Act of 2010?

On December 13, 2010, President Obama signed into law Public Law 111-296, the Healthy-Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.  This legislation marks the most comprehensive changes to school nutrition in more than a generation.  The new standards reflect the most current dietary science and are designed to combat childhood obesity and childhood hunger.  Goals of the new legislation are to ensure students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week; increase offerings of whole grain-rich foods; offer only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties; limit calories based on the age of the children being served to ensure proper portion size; and to increase the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.  Implementation of the key changes will be phased in over a three-year period, with final changes for sodium targets by the 2022-2023 school year.