Electronic Application Transformation –
Create a model electronic application for the National School Lunch Program and help millions of American students access school meals.

The cafeteria: it’s the nexus of school social life – a place to make friends finish up last night’s homework, refuel for recess, and play tic-tac-toe with your pizza toppings. But for many of America’s schoolchildren, the cafeteria also serves a more essential function – it’s where they receive half or more of their daily nutrition.

An overwhelming majority of America’s school children—roughly 50 million elementary and secondary school students—attend institutions that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) school meal programs. Most consume school meals on a regular basis. In total, about 100,000 schools and institutions serve more than five billion meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and two billion via the School Breakfast Program (SBP) to America’s children each school year.

U.S. government assistance subsidizes all program meals and allows schools to serve free and substantially reduced-priced meals to children from low-income households.

Traditionally, households have applied for free or reduced-price meal benefits by submitting paper or online applications to their schools. Millions of these applications are filed every year, and nearly 10 million low income children were approved to receive benefits in school year 2014-15 through these applications.

However, due to issues with reporting, calculating, and processing, many applications contain errors that result in incorrect eligibility decisions for children.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) offers a prototype paper application on its website, and thousands of school districts have adopted or modified that application for their own use. Many districts also offer online applications, but the FNS does not have an electronic prototype for them to use as a model. And that’s where you come in! 

We want you to develop a forward-looking, web-based application form using personalized behavioral prompts, UX best practices, and edit-checks to assist in accurate form completion. 

Applications must be skillfully and artfully designed to limit the burden on applicants and achieve two additional goals: 

  1. Facilitate access to program benefits for eligible children, and
  2. Strengthen program integrity by reducing application errors.

Through this hackathon, we hope to develop a prototype that can be shared with all school districts, and that incorporates the best ideas and insights from UX designers and software developers. By participating, you have the chance to impact the user experience of millions of applicants and improve a program that helps ensure that American children have access to healthy school meals.

So what can you do right now?

First, register for the competition! Then review the Requirements and Resources pages. These pages extract and summarize the key requirements from the FNS model paper application, briefly explain the reasons for those requirements, and provide field definitions and more.

View full rules


This hackathon is open to United States citizens, permanent residents, and companies only.

Entrants may compete if they are:

  • Individuals and/or teams of individuals who are 18 years or older and citizens or permanent residents of the US at the time of entry (eligible for cash prizes)
  • US Companies with 50 or fewer employees (eligible for cash prizes)
  • US Large Organizations with more than 50 employees (eligible for Large Organization Recognition Award only – not cash prizes)

Note that Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment and employees of the USDA are not eligible for any prize. See the rules for complete details.


Main Requirement: Build a functioning web-based form that runs on a desktop web browser and will collect the information school systems need to determine eligibility for program benefits, while improving applicants’ user experience and reducing applicant errors.

Submitted applications must:

  • Include and collect all required fields necessary for application consideration by local school districts. A list of the required fields can be found on the Requirements page.
  • Be open-sourced and provided under MIT license.
  • Include a way to capture, save, and export the completed web-based form responses.
  • Include user interface questions prompting to assist with form completion. 

Submit the following assets:

  1. A demo video (hosted on YouTube or Vimeo). Your video should include a demo of your working application via a step-by-step visual demo. The video should demonstrate how the design improves UX for applicants and reduces error.
  2. Images. Please submit at least one image/screenshot of your application's UX design.
  3. A link to an open source code repository for your submitted application.
  4. A link to your working application for judging and testing. Here’s how.
  5. Proof that user testing was completed and feedback was provided. How you show this is up to you. You can have your testers complete the Feedback Questionnaire to include in your submission, include feedback in your demo video, or provide it in some other way.

How to enter

How to Enter:

  1. Read the Official Rules to confirm you meet all eligibility requirements.
  2. Register to access the submission form and form teams.
  3. Visit the Requirements and Resources pages to review the required fields and content your application must include, field dependencies, UX considerations, etc.
  4. Find a teammate (optional). Do you have the UX chops, but need someone who can code? Are you a genius coder, but need some design flair? Join our E.A.T. School Lunch UX Challenge-only Slack channel. 
  5. Create a working solution that meets the requirements above.
  6. Get feedback on your solution from your peers and complete the Feedback Questionnaire. Remember, one of the judging criteria includes the extent to which user testing was obtained.
  7. Shoot your demo video and create images of your UX design. (Pro tip: include peer feedback in your submission video.)
  8. Set up your open source code repo and prep your app for testing.
  9. Submit early! (You can edit your submission as many times as you want before the deadline.)


Cindy Long

Cindy Long
Deputy Administrator, Child Nutrition Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Kristen Hyatt

Kristen Hyatt
Assistant Deputy Administrator, Child Nutrition Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Edward Harper

Edward Harper
Director, Office of Program Integrity, Child Nutrition Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Rebecca Trump

Rebecca Trump
Design Strategist

Whitney Hess

Whitney Hess
Empathy Coach

Judging Criteria

  • UX and Design Appeal
    Includes the degree to which the design reinvents the user experience of the form – focusing on usability, intuitiveness, and design appeal.
  • Effectiveness & Efficiency of Behavioral Prompts
    Does the design keep the user engaged through user prompts? Does the design guide the applicants through all required fields and reduce mistakes? Does it do so efficiently, with well-designed skip patterns to avoid asking unnecessary questions?
  • Implementation of Form Requirements
    Includes the extent to which the design adheres to the set of form and field requirements presented.
  • Application Code Documentation & Implementation
    Includes the completeness and efficiency of the application documentation and code.
  • Demonstration of Testing and Debugging
    Includes the extent to which user testing and debugging was performed and demonstrated within the submission.