Crediting Foods in School Nutrition Programs

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Crediting Guidance for Meal Components: Grades K-12


The resources below provide guidance on the crediting requirements for the five meal components (milk, meats/meat alternates, vegetables, fruits, and grains) of the meal patterns for grades K-12 in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). The Seamless Summer Option (SSO) of the NSLP follows the NSLP and SBP meal patterns.

Effective with school year 2025-26 (beginning July 1, 2025), the USDA final rule, Child Nutrition Programs: Meal Patterns Consistent with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, establishes several product-based limits for added sugars in the NSLP and SBP meal patterns for grades K-12.

  • Flavored milk cannot exceed 10 grams of added sugars per 8 fluid ounces. Flavored milk sold as a competitive food in middle and high schools cannot exceed 15 grams of added sugars per 12 fluid ounces.
  • Yogurt cannot exceed 12 grams of added sugars per 6 ounces (2 grams of added sugars per ounce).
  • Breakfast cereals cannot exceed 6 grams of added sugars per dry ounce.

For more information, visit the "Upcoming Meal Pattern Changes" section of the CSDE's Meal Patterns for Grades K-12 in School Nutrition Programs webpage.

 

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


Milk Component

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). Training on the milk component is available in Module 7: Milk Component of the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training program.

  • Fat content: The meal patterns for grades K-12 allow low-fat (1%) and fat-free milk, either unflavored or flavored. 
  • 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 1 cup, 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. Refer to the CSDE's Crediting Smoothies in the Meal Patterns for Grades K-12 in the School Nutrition Programs.
  • 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. Refer to the CSDE's Allowable Milk Substitutes for Children without Disabilities in School Nutrition Programs
  • State beverage statute for public schools: In addition to the meal pattern requirements, 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 available for sale to students on school premises, as part of and separately from reimbursable meals and ASP snacks. A list of products that comply with the federal and state requirements is available in list 16 (milk) and list 17 (nondairy milk substitutes) on the CSDE's List of Acceptable Foods and Beverages webpage. 
  • Milk component change for school year 2025-26: Effective July 1, 2025, the USDA final rule, Child Nutrition Programs: Meal Patterns Consistent with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, establishes a sugar limit for flavored milk. Flavored milk cannot exceed 10 grams of added sugars per 8 fluid ounces. Flavored milk sold as a competitive food in middle and high schools cannot exceed 15 grams of added sugars per 12 fluid ounces.

General Crediting Guidance for Milk

Milk in Smoothies

Milk Substitutes

Milk Variety Exemption for Residential Child Care Institutions (RCCIs)
RCCIs that are juvenile detention centers or correctional facilities may meet the milk variety requirement over the week, rather than daily, if there are potential legitimate safety concerns regarding offering different types of milk to students. For example, a RCCI may offer all students flavored fat-free milk on some days of the week and unflavored low-fat milk on other days. This provision also applies to any other RCCIs that can demonstrate operational limitations to separating the grade groups and can show legitimate safety concerns if students are served different portions. To implement this provision, the RCCI must submit a waiver request to the CSDE.


Meats/Meat Alternates (MMA) Component

The MMA component includes fresh and frozen meats (e.g., lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, and shellfish), processed meats (e.g., chicken nuggets, deli meats, and fish sticks), canned meats (e.g., chicken, tuna, and salmon), and meat alternates (e.g., eggs; cheese; yogurt; nuts and seeds and their butters; beans, peas, and lentils; tofu; and tempeh). Beans, peas, and lentils credit as either MMA or vegetables but one serving cannot credit as both components in the same meal. Training on the MMA component is available in Module 8: Meats/Meat Alternates Component of the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training program.

  • Serving size: MMA are measured in ounce equivalents (oz eq). The minimum creditable amount is ¼ oz eq. 
  • Required quantities for 1 oz eq: The required quantities depend on the type of MMA and refer to the edible portion of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish (i.e., without bone, breading, binders, fillers, extenders, liquids, or other ingredients). A 1-oz eq serving of MMA equals 1 ounce of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish; 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/peas/lentils; 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). 
  • Crediting MMA substitutions at breakfast: Effective July 1, 2024, the USDA final rule, Child Nutrition Programs: Meal Patterns Consistent with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, establishes a combined grains and MMA component in the SBP meal pattern and removes the requirement to offer 1 oz eq of grains each day at breakfast. SFAs may offer 1 oz eq of grains, MMA, or a combination of both. Refer to the USDA's Offering Meats and Meat Alternates at School Breakfast.
  • 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.
  • Commerical processed products: Commercial processed products require a CN label or PFS to document their meal pattern contribution. Products without this documentation cannot credit in school meals.
  • MMA component change for school year 2025-26: Effective July 1, 2025, the USDA final rule, Child Nutrition Programs: Meal Patterns Consistent with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, establishes a sugars limit for yogurt. Yogurt cannot exceed 12 grams of added sugars per 6 ounces (no more than 2 grams of added sugars per ounce).

General Crediting Guidance for MMA

Alternate Protein Products (APPs)

Breakfast

Beans, Peas, and Lentils

Commercial Products

Dried Meats

Nuts and Seeds: Crediting Nuts and Seeds in the School Nutrition Programs (CSDE)

Tempeh and Surimi

Tofu and Tofu Products

Yogurt and Soy Yogurt

Vegetables Component

The vegetables component includes fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, canned vegetables, dried vegetables, and pasteurized 100 percent full-strength vegetable juice. Beans, peas, and lentils credit as either vegetables or MMA but one serving cannot credit as both components in the same meal. Training on the vegetables component is available in Module 10: Vegetables Component of the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training program.

Crediting Considerations for Vegetables

  • Serving size: Vegetables are measured by volume (cups). 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. The minimum creditable amount is ⅛ cup. 
  • 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. Refer to the CSDE's Crediting Juice in the Meal Patterns for Grades K-12 in the School Nutrition Programs
  • Vegetable subgroups 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/lentils, starchy, and other (refer to the CSDE's 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 at any breakfast.

General Crediting Guidance for Vegetables

Beans, Peas, and Lentils

Juice: Crediting Juice in the Meal Patterns for Grades K-12 in the School Nutrition Programs (CSDE)

Salad Bars

Smoothies

Soups: Crediting Soups in the School Nutrition Programs (CSDE)

Vegetable Subgroups: Vegetable Subgroups in the NSLP (CSDE)

Vegetables at Breakfast

Vegetables in Smoothies


Fruits Component

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. Training on the fruits component is available in Module 9: Fruits Component of the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training program.

Crediting Considerations for Fruits

  • Serving size: Fruits are measured by volume (cups). 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. The minimum creditable amount is ⅛ cup. 
  • 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. Refer to the CSDE's Crediting Juice in the Meal Patterns for Grades K-12 in the School Nutrition Programs

General Crediting Guidance for Fruits

Coconut: USDA Memo SP 34-2019, CACFP 15-2019, and SFSP 15-2019: Crediting Coconut, Hominy, Corn Masa, and Corn Flour in the Child Nutrition Programs

Juice: Crediting Juice in the Meal Patterns for Grades K-12 in the School Nutrition Programs (CSDE)

Smoothies


Grains Component

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). Training on the grains component is available in Module 11: Grains Component, Module 12: Whole Grain-rich (WGR) Requirement, and Module 13: Grain Ounce Equivalents of the CSDE's What’s in a Meal training program.

General Crediting Guidance for Grains

Breakfast Cereals

Grain-based Desserts: Crediting Grain-based Desserts in the Meal Patterns for Grades K-12 in the School Nutrition Program (CSDE)

Ounce Equivalents

Popcorn: USDA Memo SP 23-2019, CACFP 10-2019, and SFSP 9-2019: Crediting Popcorn in the Child Nutrition Programs

Whole Grain-rich Requirement  At least 80 percent of weekly grains must be WGR