Crediting Foods in School Nutrition Programs

Documents/Forms

Crediting Guidance for the Meal Pattern
Components for School Nutrition Programs


The crediting guidance below applies to the meal patterns for grades K-12 in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) of the NSLP. These resources include information and guidance for school food authorities (SFAs) on the crediting requirements for each of the five food components: milk, meat/meat alternates, vegetables, fruits, and grains. 

Note: Some foods have additional crediting restrictions for preschool menus because the meal patterns for preschoolers (ages 1-4) have different requirements. For more information, review the CSDE's document, Comparison of Meal Pattern Requirements for Preschoolers and Grades K-12 in the NSLP and SBP. For information on crediting foods in preschool meals, visit the CSDE's Meal Patterns for Preschoolers in School Nutrition Programs webpage.


Milk | Meat/Meat Alternates | Vegetables | Fruits | Grains


Milk Component for Grades K-12

Milk must be pasteurized, meet all state and local requirements, and contain vitamins A and D at levels specified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The meal patterns for grades K-12 allow unflavored low-fat (1%) milk, unflavored fat-free milk, and flavored fat-free milk.  At lunch and breakfast, school food authorities (SFAs) must offer a variety of milk (at least two different choices of at content or flavor). At least one choice must be unflavored milk. The milk variety requirement does not apply to the ASP or SMP. 

The minimum creditable amount is the full 1-cup serving, with an exception for milk in smoothies. The minimum creditable amount of milk in a smoothie is ¼ cup. SFAs must have a standardized recipe or PFS to document the type and amount of milk per serving. If the smoothie contains less than the full serving of milk, the menu must include additional milk to provide the full serving. For more information, refer to the CSDE's resource, Crediting Smoothies for Grades K-12 in the NSLP and SBP.

SFAs have the option to offer one or more allowable fluid milk substitutes for children without a disability. The two allowable types of milk substitutes include 1) lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk; and 2) nondairy milk substitutes that meet the USDA’s nutrition standards for fluid milk substitutes, such as certain brands of soy milk. This substitution requires a written request from the parent or guardian indicating the medical or other special dietary need that restricts the child’s diet and requires the milk substitute. For more information, refer to the CSDE's resource, Allowable Milk Substitutes for Children without Disabilities in School Nutrition Programs

Public schools must also meet the state beverage requirements for milk and nondairy milk substitutes under Section 10-221q of the Connecticut General Statutes. The state beverage statute applies to all beverages sold on school premises as part of and separately from reimbursable meals and ASP snacks. For a list of products that comply with the federal and state requirements, refer to list 16 (milk) and list 17 (nondairy milk substitutes) on the CSDE's List of Acceptable Foods and Beverages webpage. 

Meat/Meat Alternates Component for Grades K-12

The meat/meat alternates component includes fresh and frozen meats (such as lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, and shellfish), processed meats (such as chicken nuggets, deli meats, and fish sticks), canned meats (such as chicken, tuna, and salmon), and meat alternates (such as eggs, cheese, yogurt, nuts and seeds and their butters, beans and peas (legumes), tofu, and tempeh).

The required servings for the meat/meat alternates component refer to the edible portion of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish, e.g., lean meat without bone, breading, binders, fillers, or other ingredients. Different types of meats and meat alternates require different amounts to credit as 1 ounce of the meat/meat alternates component. A 1-ounce serving of the meat/meat alternates component equals 1 ounce of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish (without binders, fillers, extenders, and liquids); 1 ounce of cheese (low-fat recommended); 2 ounces of cottage or ricotta cheese, cheese food/spread, or cheese substitute (low-fat recommended); ¼ cup of cooked beans and peas (legumes); ½ large egg; 2 tablespoons of nut or seed butters; 1 ounce of nuts or seeds; 1 ounce of commercial tofu (containing at least 5 grams of protein in 2.2 ounces); 1 ounce of tempeh; 3 ounces of surimi; ½ cup of yogurt or soy yogurt (containing no more than 3.83 grams of sugar per ounce); and 1 ounce of alternate protein products (APPs). Commercial processed products require a CN label or PFS to credit. 

The minimum creditable amount is ¼ ounce. If a food item provides less than the full-required meal pattern serving, the menu must include the additional amount from other meat/meat alternates The meat/meat alternates component at lunch must be served in a main dish, or in a main dish and only one other food item. 

Vegetables Component for Grades K-12

The vegetables component includes fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, canned vegetables, rehydrated dried vegetables (PFS required), and pasteurized 100 percent full-strength vegetable juice. Legumes (cooked dry beans and peas) credit as either vegetables or meat/meat alternates, but not both in the same meal. 

All vegetables credit based on volume except raw leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach, which credit as half the volume served, e.g., 1 cup of leafy greens credits as ½ cup of the vegetables component. The minimum creditable amount is ⅛ cup. If a food item provides less than the full-required serving, the menu must include the additional amount from other vegetables. 

The weekly amount of vegetable juice cannot exceed half of the weekly vegetable offerings. At breakfast, the weekly amount of fruit juice together with vegetable juice (including vegetable/fruit juice blends) cannot exceed half of the weekly fruit offerings. The calculation of the weekly amount of juice offered at breakfast and lunch includes 100 percent fruit juice, frozen juice pops made from 100 percent juice, pureed fruits in fruit/vegetable smoothies, and juice from canned fruit served in 100 percent juice, unless the canned fruit is drained. Canned fruit in light syrup or water does not count toward the weekly juice limit.

At breakfast, vegetables may substitute for the fruits component. At lunch, the menu must comply with the weekly requirements for vegetable subgroups (see Vegetable Subgroups in the NSLP). 

Fruits Component for Grades K-12

The fruits component includes fresh fruit, frozen fruit, canned fruit (packed in water, full-strength juice, or light syrup), dried fruit, and pasteurized 100 percent full-strength fruit juice. The creditable serving of canned fruit in 100 percent juice may include the juice, but cannot include water or syrup.

Fruits credit based on volume (cups), except dried fruits credit as twice the volume served, e.g., ¼ cup of raisins credits as ½ cup of the fruits component. The minimum creditable amount is ⅛ cup. If a food item provides less than the full-required meal pattern serving, the menu must include the additional amount from other vegetables/fruits.

At lunch, the weekly amount of fruit juice cannot exceed half of the weekly fruit offerings. At breakfast, the weekly amount of fruit juice together with vegetable juice (including vegetable/fruit juice blends) cannot exceed half of the weekly fruit offerings. The calculation of the weekly amount of juice offered at breakfast and lunch includes 100 percent fruit juice, frozen juice pops made from 100 percent juice, pureed fruits in fruit/vegetable smoothies, and juice from canned fruit served in 100 percent juice, unless the canned fruit is drained. Canned fruit in light syrup or water does not count toward the weekly juice limit. The USDA recommends serving whole fruits (fresh, frozen, canned, and dried) more often than juice. 

Grains Component for Grades K-12

The grains component includes breads and bread products (such as biscuits, bagels, rolls, tortillas, and muffins), snack products (such as crackers, animal crackers, graham crackers, hard pretzels, tortilla chips, and popcorn), cereal grains (such as buckwheat, brown rice, bulgur, and quinoa), ready-to-eat (RTE) breakfast cereals, cooked breakfast cereals (such as oatmeal), bread products used as an ingredient in another menu item such as combination foods (e.g., breading on fish or poultry and pizza crust in pizza), pasta, and grain-based desserts (such as cookies, brownies, cakes, and granola bars). At lunch, grain-based desserts cannot exceed 2 ounce equivalents per week.

All grains must be whole grain-rich (WGR). WGR foods contain at least 50 percent whole grains, any remaining grains are enriched, and any noncreditable grains are less than 2 percent (¼ ounce equivalent) of the product formula (refer to Meeting the Whole Grain-rich Requirement for the NSLP and SBP Meal Patterns for Grades K-12).

The serving size must meet the required weight (groups A-g) or volume (groups H-I) in the USDA’s Exhibit A chart (refer to Grain Ounce Equivalents for Grades K-12 in the NSLP  and SBP ) or provide the minimum creditable grains (refer to Calculation Methods for Grain Ounce Equivalents for Grades K-12 in the NSLP and SBP). The minimum creditable amount is ¼ ounce equivalent. If a food item provides less than the full-required meal pattern serving, the menu must include the additional amount from other grains.

  Creditable Grains