Crediting Foods in School Nutrition Programs

Documents/Forms

Crediting Guidance for the
Meal Pattern Components


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 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, see 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 and flavored low-fat (1%) milk and fat-free milk.  At lunch and breakfast, schools must offer a variety of milk (at least two different choices). If schools offer flavored milk, unflavored milk must also be offered at the same meal service. The milk variety requirement does not apply to the ASP or SMP.

All milk sold to students in public schools must also meet the state beverage requirements of Section 10-221q of the Connecticut General Statutes. This includes milk sold as part of reimbursable meals and ASP snacks, and milk sold to students separately from reimbursable meals. For a list of milk that complies with the federal and state requirements, see list 16 on the CSDE's List of Acceptable Foods and Beverages webpage.

Meat/Meat Alternates Component for Grades K-12

The required servings for the meat/meat alternates component refer to the edible portion of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish, e.g., cooked lean meat without bone, breading, binders, fillers, or other ingredients. Different types of meat 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 equivalent of 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). Legumes (cooked dry beans and peas) credit as either vegetables or meat/meat alternates, but not both in the same meal. 

The minimum creditable amount is ¼ ounce. If a food item provides less than the full-required serving, the menu must include the additional amount from other meat/meat alternates The daily 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, frozen, and canned vegetables; and pasteurized full-strength vegetable juice. A serving of cooked vegetables must be drained. Legumes (cooked dry beans and peas) credit as either vegetables or meat/meat alternates, but not both in the same meal. Vegetables can substitute for the fruits component at breakfast. 

All vegetables credit based on volume, except raw leafy greens credit as half the volume served (e.g., 1 cup of leafy greens credits as ½ cup of vegetables). Tomato paste and puree credit based on the volume as if reconstituted (see the USDA’s Food Buying Guide). 

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. 

At lunch, the menu must comply with the weekly requirements for vegetable subgroups. 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. In addition to 100 percent vegetable juice, the calculation of the total weekly amount of juice offered at lunch and breakfast includes frozen juice pops made from 100 percent vegetable/fruit juice and pureed vegetables in fruit/vegetable smoothies. The USDA recommends serving whole fruits (fresh, frozen, canned, and dried) more often than juice.

Fruits Component for Grades K-12

The fruits component includes fresh, frozen, dried, and canned fruit (packed in water, full-strength juice, or light syrup); and pasteurized full-strength fruit juice). A serving of canned fruit may include the 100 percent juice in which the fruit is packed.

All fruits credit based on volume except dried fruit, which credits as twice the volume served, e.g., ¼ cup of dried fruit 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 serving, the  menu must include the additional amount from other 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 fruit/vegetable juice blends) cannot exceed half of the weekly fruit offerings. The calculation of the total 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.

Grains Component for Grades K-12

Effective July 1, 2019, the USDA’s final rule, Child Nutrition Programs: Flexibilities for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Requirements, requires that at least half of the grains offered in the NSLP and SBP must be whole grain-rich (WGR). Grains that are not WGR must be enriched. The minimum creditable amount of the grains component is ¼ ounce equivalent. If a food item provides less than the full-required serving, the menu must include the additional amount from other grains.. 

The CSDE strongly encourages SFAs to continue to serve only WGR grains, and offer 100 percent whole grains most often. This provides the best nutrition for children. SFAs that choose to offer enriched grains must maintain calculations to demonstrate that at least half of the weekly grains offered at lunch and breakfast are WGR.