Special Diets in School Nutrition Programs

What's Next

Developing Policies for Special Diets in School Nutrition Program
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)  |   Resources for Assessment and Action Planning

Developing Policies for Meal Modifications

Written policies for meal modifications are important because they:

  • provide clear guidelines for students, families, and school staff;
  • ensure consistent practices in all schools and among all staff;
  • document compliance with federal and state requirements and best practices;
  • educate families regarding school practices and procedures;
  • provide a basis to evaluate program activities and staff; and
  • demonstrate the LEA's commitment to children’s health and well-being.

The strategies below assist local educational agencies (LEAs) with policy development. Priority areas include assessing current operations, developing standard operating procedures (SOPs), providing staff training, and ensuring consistent communication.

  • Identify the personnel and resources needed for planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating the policy and SOPs for meal modifications.
  • Conduct a self-assessment of the LEA's current policies, practices, and procedures for modifications to school meals. Refer to the CSDE’s document, Self-assessment of Local Practices for Meal Modifications in School Nutrition Programs.
  • Identify the essential practices to implement in school food services and school health services, and determine where SOPs are necessary.
  • Develop an action plan to address the practices needing attention, as identified by the LEA's self-assessment. When developing action plans for SOPs, start with the most important practices. The CSDE’s action planning form and sample action plans can assist with this process.
  • Develop SOPs by writing down the actual steps taken when performing the specific task. When using sample SOPs from organizations or other schools, be sure to customize the information so it is specific to the local program.
  • Identify the training needs of school staff regarding meal modifications for children with special dietary needs. Provide annual and ongoing training for school food service personnel, school health services personnel, and other school staff, as appropriate.
  • Determine effective communication strategies between the school food service director, school food service personnel, nurse supervisor, nurses, teachers, students, parents or guardians, school staff, and administrators to ensure that everyone is aware of the LEA’s policy and SOPs for meal modifications. Incorporate these strategies into the SOPs and provide staff training and guidance on how to implement them.
  • Implement monitoring procedures to ensure that meal modifications are reasonable, appropriate, and meet each child’s specific dietary needs; and that all staff consistently follow the LEA’s policy and SOPs for meal modifications. Review the LEA’s policy and SOPs for meal modifications at least annually, and make changes as needed.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

SOPs are detailed explanations of how to implement a policy through specific practices or tasks. They standardize the process and provide step-by-step instructions that enable everyone to perform the task in a consistent manner. This ensures that all school staff follows the same procedures each time. Potential SOPs for meal modifications include:

  • preparing foods for different types of special diets, such as texture modifications, food allergies, celiac disease, and diabetes;
  • reviewing menus, reading food labels, and making nutrition information available to students, families, school nurses, and others as needed;
  • cleaning to prevent cross-contact of possible allergens; 
  • handwashing to prevent cross-contact of possible food allergens; 
  • ensuring that school food service personnel, school nurses, and other appropriate school staff regularly communicate and collaborate regarding the planning and implementation of meal modifications for children whose disability restricts their diet;
  • obtaining consultation services (such as a registered dietitian), as needed, to plan meals for children whose disability restricts their diet; and 
  • training for school food service staff (including substitutes), and all applicable school staff, involved with planning, preparing, and serving school meals and ASP snacks. 

Sample SOPs

Resources for Assessment and Action Planning