The cafeteria: it’s the nexus of school social life. 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. 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. 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.

EatLunch.us wants to standardize the application process for school districts. Eat Lunch is a web-based application form that uses personalized behavioral prompts, UX best practices, and edit-checks to assist in accurate form completion. The application is designed to limit the burden on applicants by facilitating access to program benefits to eligible children and reduce application errors.

A 2013 Pew research survey showed that 45% of users living in households with an annual income of less than $30,000 mostly use their phone to go online. Eatlunch.us solves this problem with its responsive design that improves accessibility to lower income families.

And for school districts, they’ll have an electronic prototype for them to use as a model. EatLunch.us allows school districts to capture, save, and export the completed web-based form responses in a commonly used format. From the homepage, there's a link to an Admin page where form responses can be downloaded in XML format.

Through research and usability testing, we found that users didn’t know what information they needed to get started, how to edit or how to start over if they made mistakes.

This web-based application incorporates best practices like top-aligned labels to enable efficient scanning and faster completion time, a wizard-like approach to show progress and path to completion, clear and direct feedback to prevent high error rates, and user-activated help. The homepage even displays a list of necessary items before starting the application process.

Current sites such as applyforlunch.com help walk users through the form but provide verbose instructions and overwhelming help and tips. Other sites like schoollunchapp.com also simplify the application process but don’t offer the user experience expected from most online forms such as consistent user prompts and form validation. And millions of applications are filed every year, but many applications contain errors that result in incorrect eligibility decisions for children.

EatLunch.us combines the best of both worlds. Users can review their application, make changes where appropriate... and if they ever need to take a break, they can save their progress and complete the application later on.

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