Crediting Foods in School Nutrition Programs

Documents/Forms

Crediting Guidance for the Meal Pattern
Components for School Nutrition Programs:
Grades K-12


This webpage provides guidance for crediting foods and beverages in 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. Guidance and resources are provided for each of the five meal pattern components (milk, meat/meat alternates, vegetables, fruits, and grains). 

Note: The meal patterns for preschoolers (ages 1-4) have some different crediting requirements. For more information, refer to the CSDE's resource, 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

The milk component requires fluid milk. 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 low-fat (1%) and fat-free milk, either unflavored or flavored. For detailed guidance on the milk component, review the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training module, Module 7: Milk Component.

Crediting Considerations for Milk
  • Milk variety: School food authorities (SFAs) must offer a variety of milk (at least two different choices of fat content or flavor) at lunch and breakfast. At least one choice must be unflavored milk. The milk variety requirement does not apply to the ASP or SMP.
  • Serving size: The minimum creditable amount for all grades and meals is the full 1-cup serving, with an exception for milk in smoothies.
  • Milk in smoothies: The minimum creditable amount of milk in a smoothie is ¼ cup. SFAs must have a standardized recipe or product formulation statement (PFS) to document the type and amount of milk in the smoothie serving. For more information, refer to the CSDE's resource, Crediting Smoothies for Grades K-12 in the NSLP and SBP.
  • Milk substitutes for children without a disability: SFAs may choose 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. Nondairy milk substitutes require 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
  • State beverage statute: Milk and nondairy milk substitutes in public schools must also meet the state beverage requirements of 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. 
Resources for Milk

Meat/Meat Alternates Component for Grades K-12

The meat/meat alternates (MMA) 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). Legumes (cooked dry beans and peas) credit as either MMA or vegetables but one serving cannot credit as both components in the same meal. For detailed guidance on the MMA component, review the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training module, Module 8: Meat/Meat Alternates Component.

Crediting Considerations for MMA
  • Serving size: MMA are measured in ounce equivalents (oz eq). The minimum creditable amount is ¼ oz eq. The required MMA quantities refer to the edible portion of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish, e.g., lean meat without bone, breading, binders, fillers, or other ingredients.
  • Required quantities for 1 oz eq: Different types of meats and meat alternates require different amounts to credit as 1 oz eq of the MMA component. A 1-oz eq serving of the MMA 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 (must contain at least 5 grams of protein in 2.2 ounces); 1 ounce of tempeh; 3 ounces of surimi; ½ cup or 4 ounces of yogurt or soy yogurt; and 1 ounce of alternate protein products (APPs). 
  • Main dish requirement for lunch: The MMA component must be served in a main dish or in a main dish and one other food item.
  • Limit for nuts and seeds at lunch: Nuts and seeds cannot credit for more than half of the MMA component.
  • Commerical processed products: Commercial processed products require a Child Nutrition (CN) label or product formulation statement (PFS) to document their meal pattern contribution. Products without this documentation cannot credit in school meals.
  • Crediting MMA substitutions at breakfast: The MMA component is optional at breakfast. MMA may be offered as a substitute for grains after offering at least 1 oz eq of grains: 1 oz eq of MMA credits as 1 oz eq of grains. MMA substitutions count toward the required weekly servings of the grains component and the weekly dietary specifications. For more information, refer to the USDA's Offering Meats and Meat Alternates at School Breakfast.
Resources for Meat/Meat Alternates 

Vegetables Component for Grades K-12

The vegetables component includes fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, canned vegetables, dried vegetables, and pasteurized 100 percent full-strength vegetable juice. Legumes (cooked dry beans and peas) credit as either vegetables or meat/meat alternates but one serving cannot credit as both components in the same meal. For detailed guidance on the vegetables component, review the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training module, Module 10: Vegetables Component.

Crediting Considerations for Vegetables
  • Serving size: Vegetables are measured by volume (cups). The minimum creditable amount is ⅛ cup. All vegetables credit based on the volume served, except raw leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach. Raw leafy greens credit as half the volume served, e.g., 1 cup of leafy greens credits as ½ cup of the vegetables component. 
  • Canned vegetables: The serving of canned vegetables must be drained.
  • Dried vegetables: Dried vegetables (such as potato flakes and dried soup mix) credit based on their rehydrated volume and require a PFS. Dried vegetables used for seasonings do not credit. 
  • Juice limit: 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.
  • Vegetable subgroup at lunch: The lunch meal pattern requires weekly servings of the five vegetable subgroups recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These include dark green, red/orange, beans/peas (legumes), starchy, and other (refer to Vegetable Subgroups in the NSLP). SFAs may offer the vegetable subgroups in any order and amount throughout the week to total the minimum weekly requirements.
  • Vegetable substitutions at breakfast: Vegetables and vegetable juice may substitute for the fruits component.
Resources for Vegetables

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. For detailed guidance on the fruits component, review the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training module, Module 9: Fruits Component. 

Crediting Considerations for Fruits
  • Serving size: Fruits are measured by volume (cups). The minimum creditable amount is ⅛ cup. All fruits credit based on the volume served, except dried fruits. Dried fruits credit as twice the volume served, e.g., ¼ cup of raisins credits as ½ cup of the fruits component.
  • Juice limit: 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. 
Resources for Fruits

Grains Component for Grades K-12

The grains component includes whole grain-rich (WGR) and enriched 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). For detailed guidance on the grains component, review the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training modules, Module 11: Grains Component, Module 12: Whole Grain-rich (WGR) Requirement, and Module 13: Grain Ounce Equivalents. 

Crediting Considerations for Grains
Resources for Grains