Meal Patterns for Preschoolers in School Nutrition Programs

Documents/Forms

Preschool Menu Forms | Crediting Foods
Milk | Meat/Meat Alternates | Vegetables | Fruits | Grains

NOTE: This crediting guidance applies only to the meal patterns for preschoolers (ages 1-4) in the school nutrition programs (NSLP, SBP, ASP, and SSO). The meal patterns for grades K-12 in the NSLP (including the SSO and ASP) and SBP are different from the meal patterns for preschoolers. For more information, see the CSDE's Comparison of Meal Pattern Requirements for Preschoolers and Grades K-12 in the NSLP and SBP. For information on the meal patterns and crediting foods for grades K-12, see the CSDE's Meal Patterns for School Nutrition Programs and Crediting Foods in School Nutrition Programs webpages, and the CSDE's guide,  Menu Planning Guide for School Meals for Grades K-12.

Preschool Menu Forms

Breakfast
Lunch

Crediting Foods in Preschool Menus

General Crediting Information

Crediting Foods Prepared On Site

To credit foods prepared on site toward the USDA meal patterns, school food authorities (SFAs) must maintain standardized recipes that document the crediting information per serving. For example, if macaroni and cheese is planned as 1 ½ ounce equivalents of the meat/meat alternates component and ½ ounce equivalent of the grains component for ages 3-4 at lunch, the SFA's recipe must indicate that each serving contains 1 ½ ounces of cheese and ¼ cup of whole-grain or enriched pasta. 

Crediting Commercial Processed Products

SFAs must obtain appropriate documentation to indicate that commercial products credit toward the USDA meal patterns. For example, to credit commercial chicken nuggets as the meat/meat alternates component at lunch, the manufacturer’s documentation must indicate that one serving of the product contains 1 ½ ounces of cooked chicken. Allowable documentation includes:

  • the original Child Nutrition (CN) label from the product carton or a photocopy or photograph of the CN label shown attached to the original product carton; or
  • a product formulation statement (PFS) signed by an official of the manufacturer stating the amount of each meal pattern component contained in one serving of the product. 

These are the only acceptable records for documenting a commercial product’s contribution to the USDA meal patterns. Without this documentation, SFAs cannot credit commercial products toward the USDA meal patterns.

Milk Component

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 preschool meal patterns require unflavored whole milk for age 1; and unflavored low-fat milk or unflavored fat-free milk for ages 2-4. Flavored milk is not allowed for preschoolers. 

All milk served in public schools must also meet the state beverage requirements for milk under Section 10-221q of the Connecticut General Statutes. This includes milk sold as part of reimbursable meals and ASP snacks, and milk sold to preschoolers 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

Creditable meat/meat alternates include cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish; cheese; beans and peas (legumes); eggs; nut and seed butters; nuts and seeds; commercial tofu (containing at least 5 grams of protein in 2.2 ounces); yogurt or soy yogurt (containing no more than 3.83 grams of sugar per ounce); and alternate protein products (APPs). Legumes credit as either meat/meat alternates or vegetables, but not both in the same meal. Meat/meat alternates may substitute for the entire grains component at breakfast up to three times per week. The serving size of meat/meat alternates refers to the edible portion of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish as served, e.g., cooked lean meat without bone, breading, or other ingredients. To credit toward the meat/meat alternates component, a menu item must provide a minimum of ¼ ounce of meat/meat alternates. The rest of the minimum daily serving must be met with additional meat/meat alternates.

Vegetables Component

Creditable vegetables include fresh, frozen, and canned. A serving of canned 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. All vegetables credit based on volume except raw leafy greens, which credit as half the volume served, e.g., 1 cup of leafy greens credits as ½ cup of the vegetables component. The USDA’s CACFP Best Practices recommends at least one serving per week of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas (legumes), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables. Juice credits as the vegetables or fruits component at only one preschool meal or Afterschool Snack Program snack per day. The juice limit includes all fruit and vegetable juice, frozen pops made from 100 percent juice, pureed fruits and vegetables in smoothies, and juice from canned fruit in 100 percent juice.

Fruits Component

Creditable fruits include fresh, frozen, canned, and dried. Serve canned fruits in light syrup, water, or 100 percent 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 credits as twice the volume served, e.g., ¼ cup of dried fruit counts as ½ cup of the fruits component. To credit toward the fruits component, a menu item must provide a minimum of 1/8 cup of fruit. The rest of the minimum daily serving must be met with additional fruits. Juice credits as the vegetables or fruits component at only one preschool meal or Afterschool Snack Program snack per day. The juice limit includes all fruit and vegetable juice, frozen pops made from 100 percent juice, pureed fruits and vegetables in smoothies, and juice from canned fruit in 100 percent juice. Canned fruit in light syrup or water does not count toward the juice limit. The USDA’s CACFP Best Practices recommends serving whole fruits (fresh, canned, dried, and frozen) more often than juice. Vegetables can substitute for the fruits components at any preschool lunch but the two servings must be different vegetables.

Grains Component

Creditable grains include whole grains, enriched grains, bran, and germ. Cereal grains (e.g., oats, barley, cornmeal, and bulgur) and ready-to-eat (RTE) breakfast cereals and cooked breakfast cereal grains (e.g., oatmeal and cream of wheat) must be whole grain, whole grain-rich (WGR), enriched, or fortified, and cannot contain more than 6 grams of sugar per dry ounce. Except for sweet crackers such as graham crackers and animal crackers, grain-based desserts cannot credit in preschool meals. Examples include cookies, sweet pie crusts, doughnuts, cereal bars, granola bars, sweet rolls, pastries, toaster pastries, cake, and brownies. To credit toward the grains component, a menu item must provide a minimum of ¼ serving of grains. The rest of the minimum daily serving must be met with additional grains.

Preschool menus must include at least one WGR serving per day, between all meals and Afterschool Snack Program snacks served to preschoolers. Foods that qualify as WGR in the preschool meal patterns contain at least 50 percent whole grains and any other grain ingredients are enriched. A grain food meets the preschool WGR criteria if a whole grain is the first ingredient (or second after water), and the next two grain ingredients (if any) are whole grains, enriched grains, bran, or germ. A combination food meets the preschool WGR criteria if the first grain ingredient (or second after water) is a whole grain, and the next two grain ingredients (if any) are whole grains, enriched grains, bran, or germ.