Meal Patterns for Preschoolers in School Nutrition Programs

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Crediting Foods in Preschool Menus

The crediting guidance below applies to the meal patterns for preschoolers (ages 1-4) in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Seamless Summer Option (SSO) of the NSLP, and Afterschool Snack Program (ASP) of the NSLP.


General Crediting Guidance  |   Crediting Commercial Processed Products
Crediting Foods Prepared on Site  |   Crediting Guidance for the Meal Pattern Components


General Crediting Guidance for Preschool Menus

Crediting Commercial Processed Products in Preschool Menus

School food authorities (SFAs) must obtain appropriate documentation to indicate that commercial products credit toward the preschool meal patterns. For example, to credit a commercial breaded chicken patty as the meat/meat alternates component for ages 3-4 at lunch, the manufacturer’s documentation must indicate that one serving of the product contains 1½ 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 meal pattern contribution.  Without this documentation, commercial products cannot credit toward the CACFP meal patterns.

Crediting Foods Prepared on Site in Preschool Menus

To credit foods prepared on site toward the preschool meal patterns, SFAs must maintain standardized recipes that document the crediting information per serving. For example, to credit macaroni and cheese as 1½ ounces 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 1½ ounces of cheese and ¼ cup of whole-grain or enriched pasta. 

Crediting Guidance for the Meal Pattern Components for Preschoolers

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


Milk Component for Preschoolers

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 does not credit in the preschool meal patterns. 

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 with the appropriate fat content for each age group (unflavored milk for age 1; and unflavored low-fat or fat-free milk for ages 2-4); 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 Preschoolers

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 USDA’s CACFP Best Practices recommends limiting processed meats to no more than one serving per week; and serving only lean meats, nuts, and legumes. 

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 preschool menu must include the additional amount from other meat/meat alternates The meat/meat alternates component at lunch and supper must be served in a main dish, or in a main dish and only one other food item. 

Vegetables Component for Preschoolers

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 meal pattern serving, the preschool menu must include the additional amount from other vegetables.

Pasteurized full-strength juice credits as either the vegetables component or fruits component at only one meal or snack per day. Juice includes 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.

The USDA’s CACFP Best Practices recommends serving whole fruits (fresh, frozen, canned, and dried) more often than juice; making at least one of the two required snack components a vegetable or fruit; and providing at least one serving per week of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas (legumes), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables (see Vegetable Subgroups in the CACFP).  

Fruits Component for Preschoolers

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 preschool menu must include the additional amount from other vegetables/fruits.

Pasteurized full-strength juice credits as either the vegetables component or fruits component at only one meal or ASP snack per day. Juice includes 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. The USDA’s CACFP Best Practices recommends serving whole fruits (fresh, canned, dried, and frozen) more often than juice; and making at least one of the two required snack components a vegetable or fruit.

Vegetables may substitute for the fruits components at any lunch, but the two servings must be different vegetables.

Grains Component for Preschoolers

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), pasta, 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). Grain-based desserts cannot credit. Examples include cookies, piecrusts in sweet pies, doughnuts, cereal bars, granola bars, sweet rolls, pastries, toaster pastries, cake, and brownies. Sweet crackers such as graham crackers and animal crackers are not grain-based desserts. However, the CSDE recommends not serving sweet crackers more than twice per week between all meals and snacks.

Grain products and recipes must be made with creditable grains. Creditable grains for the CACFP meal patterns include whole grains, enriched grains, bran, and germ. Cooked and ready-to-eat (RTE) breakfast cereals must be whole grain, enriched, or fortified; and cannot contain more than 6 grams of sugar per dry ounce.

The minimum creditable amount is ¼ ounce equivalent. If a food item provides less than the full-required meal pattern serving, the CACFP menu must include the additional amount from other grains.

CACFP menus must include at least one whole grain-rich (WGR) serving per day, between all meals and snacks served to participants. The USDA’s CACFP Best Practices recommends at least two WGR servings per day. WGR foods for the CACFP contain at least 50 percent whole grains and the remaining grain ingredients are enriched, bran, or germ. A grain food meets the WGR criteria if a whole grain is the first ingredient (or second after water), and the next two grain ingredients (if any) are creditable grains. A combination food meets the WGR criteria if the first grain ingredient (or second after water) is a whole grain, and the next two grain ingredients (if any) are creditable grains.