The number of sites providing free lunches for Montgomery County children dropped from 32 to 26 this summer because of the recent tightening of eligibility requirements for the federally funded program.

Last year, a school or recreation center qualified as a site for the lunch program if only 33 percent of the children living near it were from low-income households. Now, 50 percent of the children must be from low-income families, according to Debbie Jennings, summer food supervisor for the county.

Students registered for the federal and county Title I programs in areas ineligible for the meals can travel to areas where lunches are being served. Seven elementary schools, as well as recreational and day care programs, are providing summer meals through the Title I program, which provides educational assistance in schools serving low-income children.

Although the new federal requirement affects the areas serving the meals rather than the persons being served, the number of children being given meals this summer (approximately 2,200) is a drop from last year's figure of just under 3,000. This year's total, however, is expected to come close to last summer's, as the county is still accepting applications for the program, according to Jennings.

For the seventh consecutive summer, the meals are served weekdays from June through August to all eligible people under 19, and to mentally and physically handicapped persons under 22.

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Maryland Department of Education and the Community Action Agency in the Department of Family Resources. It is the only federally funded meal program for Montgomery County residents.

Last year's lunch program cost the federal government $118,313. The early estimate for the 1982 program is $82,675.

Jennings said she believes most needy children will continue to receive meals, despite the tightened restrictions, because they come from neighborhoods in which well over 50 percent of the families can be considered low-income.

Under guidelines set by the county's Housing Opportunities Commission, a family with one child can earn a maximum of $7,970 to be classified as low-income. For two children, the limit is $10,530. The guidelines list income figures for families with up to eight children at $25,840.

Montgomery County determines the eligibility requirements by sending officials to interview family members, having families fill out income data forms, and using census results.

Although the lunch program got under way at the beginning of June, residents of neighborhoods they believe can qualify for the program still can apply by calling the Community Action Agency.

Prince George's County eliminated its summer lunch program in 1980, due to massive cutbacks in the number of CETA employes available to prepare meals. At the same time, the school board decided against employing the school system's cafeteria staff for a summer program. Montgomery County uses school employes to prepare the free lunches.