Do you have a question about Child Nutrition Programs? Are you looking for information on nutrition? SNA can help you find the answers and resources you need. Review the list of questions below to see if someone has already asked your question.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are schools required to provide meals?
What policies or regulations must schools follow if they participate in the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program?
Are there requirements for the nutritional content of school meals?
Our school participates in the Afterschool Snack Program under the National School Lunch Program. What are some approved afterschool snack items I can serve?
Where can I find information on how many students eat school breakfast and lunch?
Are there guidelines as to how much time schools should give students to eat their meals?
Can you explain offer versus serve to me?
I have always been told that vending machines must be turned off during lunch serving times. Is this true?
What is a CN Label? How do I get one for the products I’m using in the meal service?
Where can I find nutritional information on a specific food item?
Is there research on how nutrition affects a students academic growth?
What are the regulations on providing meals for students with special dietary needs?
What are commodity fact sheets and where can I find them?
1. Are schools required to be provide meals?
The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program are federally funded programs by the United States Department of Agriculture that provide nutritious meals to all school children at a minimal cost. Schools voluntarily participate in these programs.
2. What policies or regulations must schools follow if they participate in the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program?
Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or School Breakfast Program (SBP) are required to follow federal regulations as well as state law and policies regarding the meals served in schools. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) that governs over the NSLP and SBP are 7 CRF § 210 and 220, respectively. For a copy of the regulations visit USDA's Food and Nutrition Service Child Nutrition Home Page.
3. Are there requirements for the nutritional content of school meals?
Schools administering the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program are required to meet specific nutrition standards over the course of a week and are allowed flexibility in meeting these standards by following one of five menu planning options. Within these nutrition standards schools must also follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
4. Our school participates in the Afterschool Snack Program under the National School Lunch Program. What are some approved afterschool snack items I can serve?
The snacks must contain at least two different components of the following four components:
- A serving of fluid milk
- A serving of meat or meat alternate
- A serving of vegetable(s) or fruit(s) or full strength vegetable or fruit juice
- A serving of whole grain or enriched bread or cereal
For more information about the Afterschool Snack Program, visit the Afterschool Snacks portion of USDA's Food and Nutrition Service Web site.
5. Where can I find information on how many students eat school breakfast and lunch?
The United States Department of Agriculture has program data based on meals served for national and state participation. You can access this information through the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Program Data page. You may also want to contact the state agency that administers the Child Nutrition Programs for statistical information on the local level that might be collected.
6. Are there guidelines as to how much time schools should give students to eat their meals?
According to federal regulations, lunch must be served between 10:00am and 2:00pm. Individual schools/school districts determine how much time to give students for lunch. For assistance on determining an adequate amount of time for students to eat their meals, refer to the National Food Service Management Institute’s “Measuring and Evaluating the Adequacy of the School Lunch Period” (in Adobe Acrobat format).
7. Can you explain offer versus serve to me?
Offer versus serve (OVS) is a serving method designed to reduced food costs and waste as well as allow students the opportunity to make choices in the foods they intend to eat. By law, OVS is required for senior high school grades (grades 9-12) for lunch. For grades below senior high school, OVS can be designated for any grade level and/or meal service. Students must be allowed to select all items, if they so desire, for the same unit price.
If lunches are prepared using either Traditional or Enhanced Food-Based Menu Planning, the following requirements must be met:
- All five components must continue to be offered.
- High school children may decline as many as two of the five items.
- Younger children may decline one or two items depending on local policy.
If lunches are prepared using Nutrient Standard Menu Planning, the following requirements must be met:
- Children may decline one item other than the entrée.
- If the meal planned consists of more than three items, the child may decline up to two items other than the entrée.
For breakfast, OVS is optional for all grade levels and a child may decline one item regardless of which menu planning option is used. Schools may not require that a certain food item be taken, except in the case of the entrée for school operating under a Nutrient Standard Menu Planning system.
8. I have always been told that vending machines must be turned off during lunch serving times. Is this true?
Although the foods in the vending machines are still in competition with reimbursable meals, as long as the foods in the vending machines are not considered to be foods of minimal nutritional value (FMNV) the regulations for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) do not prohibit the sale of these foods.
The NSLP and SBP regulations prohibit the sale of FMNV where a reimbursable meal is sold or eaten during meal periods. Foods listed as a FMNV are restricted because they do not provide at least 5 percent of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for any one of several key nutrients.
Federal regulations do not prohibit the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value elsewhere on the school grounds. However, states and local schools have the authority to adopt stricter policies and have done so. In January of 2001, the United States Department of Agriculture wrote a letter to regional directors of the Special Nutrition Programs regarding FMNV. [Read the Letter (in Adobe Acrobat format)]
9. What is a CN Label? How do I get one for the products I’m using in the meal service?
CN Label stands for Child Nutrition Label and is a voluntary federal labeling program for the Child Nutrition Programs. Products that display a CN Label have been evaluated by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine their contribution toward the meal pattern requirements under the food-based menu planning options of the Child Nutrition Programs. If the CN Label does not appear on the box the product was packed in or on the product wrapper, you can contact the food broker or manufacturer of that product to receive a copy of the label.
[More information on CN Labels]
10. Where can I find nutritional information on a specific food item?
United States Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database is a great tool for finding the nutritional content of specific foods. This database lists over 6,000 food items and is now downloadable for handheld Personal Digital Assistants.
11. Is there research on how nutrition affects a students academic growth?
Many studies have been conducted to prove that nutrition does affect cognitive development. Below are some links to sites that feature these related research papers.
12. What are the regulations on providing meals for students with special dietary needs?
Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program are required under federal law and regulations to make accommodations for children who are unable to eat the prepared meals because of a disability. These accommodations may range from food substitutions to texture modifications. To make these modifications schools must have a written statement on file that is signed by a licensed physician.
The statement must identify
- The child’s disability
- An explanation of why the disability restricts the child’s diet
- The major life activity affected by the disability
- The food(s) to be omitted from the child’s diet
- The foods or choice of foods that must be substituted
Schools may, at their discretion, make substitutions for students who do not meet the definition of disability under the federal law but are medically certified as having a special medical or dietary need, such as food intolerances or allergies that do not have life-threatening reactions (anaphylactic reactions). In this case the school must have a written statement signed by a recognized medical authority identifying the following:
- An identification of the medical or other special dietary condition which restricts the child’s diet
- The food or foods to be omitted from the child’s diet
- The food or choice of foods to be substituted
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service developed a guidance manual for school foodservice staff on accommodating children with special dietary needs. [Access the manual (in Adobe Acrobat format)]
For more information on food allergies, visit The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network’s Web site.
13. What are commodity fact sheets? Where can I find them?
Commodity fact sheets provide basic information that help school foodservice personnel make the best use of donated/commodity foods. Each commodity fact sheet includes information on the following
- Pack size
- Best if used by
- Nutrition facts
Over 100 fact sheets on USDA commodity foods are available online. [Get the Fact Sheets]