Federal Nutrition Standards for School Meals

Row of fruits and cereals in cafeteria breakfast display

School meals have a significant impact on the nutritional lives of all children, especially low-income students who often eat both breakfast and lunch at school. As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated the nutrition requirements for reimbursable school meals and established nutrition standards for all other foods served outside the school meals program at any time during the school day. The new reimbursable meal requirements emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products, with limits on sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and calories. As a result of these requirements, students are eating more fruits and vegetables and many schools are seeing increases in participation.

Breakfast Meal Requirements

As part of the USDA’s school meal pattern, school nutrition directors are required to serve certain items as part of each reimbursable meal. The required meal components for breakfast include the following: 

Grades K-12

Fruits: One full cup of fruit (or optional vegetables)

Grain: Two servings of whole grains (Meat or meat alternates may be used in place of a grain, as long as one grain serving is already part of the meal)

Milk: One cup of milk (either fat-free or 1% white milk or fat-free flavored milk)

These are daily requirements; weekly requirements vary by grade level. Additional specifications for each meal component are outlined in this chart.

For more detailed specifications, visit the USDA website.

Offer vs Serve

Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and National School Breakfast Program (NSBP) can choose to use Offer vs Serve (OVS), which allows students to choose from several food offerings to reduce food waste and increase the likelihood that students will eat what they choose. High schools are mandated to follow OVS. Under OVS, students must select a fruit or a vegetable at each meal, and must take at least three items for the meal to qualify as reimbursable.

More information on Offer vs Serve for the NSLP and NSBP can be found here.