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Offer-Versus-Serve Option in the SFSP

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin
Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: Summer Food Service Program Sponsors

Number: USDA-SFSP-01-2012

Attention: Food Program Director

Date: March 2012

Subject: Offer-Versus-Serve Option in the Summer Food Service Program

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture Memo SFSP 11-2011 Revised: Waiver of Meal Time Restrictions and Unitized Meal Requirements

This Management Bulletin (MB) provides information to Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sponsors regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to allow all SFSP sponsors to select the Offer-Versus-Serve (OVS) meal service option.


Previously, the USDA required non-school SFSP sponsors to serve unitized meals, which meant the child’s plate or meal had to include all components of a meal in the minimum serving size to be counted as a reimbursable meal. School Food Authorities were the only sponsors that could use OVS and still count the meal as reimbursable.

OVS Meal Service Option

The USDA recently waived the unitized meal service requirement. Sponsors now have the option to serve unitized meals or use the OVS meal serving option. The OVS is a concept designed to reduce food waste and food costs by allowing a child to choose the food or components of the meal that they want to eat. Using the OVS option allows a child to refuse up to one component from breakfast and up to two components from lunch and supper, and still permit the sponsor to claim those meals as complete and reimbursable.

The California Department of Education, Nutrition Services Division (NSD) strongly encourages sponsors to ensure that a child walks away with a reimbursable meal when using OVS and when serving a combination of food items with more than one component meeting the minimum meal requirement, such as pizza, tacos, soups, or spaghetti.

Below is a chart that identifies how many food items must be offered and how many food items must be on the child’s plate when using the OVS meal service option.

Offer Versus Serve Meal Service Option
Meal Minimum number of food/menu items that must be offered Minimum number of food/menu items that must be on the child’s plate
Breakfast 3 2
Lunch 5 3
Dinner 5 3

Below is an example of two lunch menus that have the same food, but use the components differently. Five food components must be offered. The child may refuse up to two food components. The third column identifies how the sponsor can make the meal reimbursable when using the OVS option.

Lunch/Dinner Menu
Menu Items Food Components OVS Option
Pizza, salad, milk
  1. Bread, 1 ounce
  2. Cheese, 2 ounces
  3. Vegetable topping, ¼ cup
  4. Vegetable , ½ cup
  5. Milk
Child cannot refuse the pizza unless the sponsor makes up the ¼ topping by adding another side dish of fruit or vegetable.
Pizza, vegetable, fruit, milk
  1. Bread, 1 ounce
  2. Cheese, 2 ounces
  3. Vegetables, ½ cup
  4. Fruit, ¼ cup
  5. Milk
Child may refuse the pizza because the child’s plate has three components which are vegetable, fruit, and milk.
Requesting OVS

To use the OVS option, the sponsor must request it when completing their Site Application in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS). The sponsor must use the OVS method until they revise and submit a CNIPS Site Application. However, the NSD will require certain agencies to serve unitized meals based on specific issues from past or future reviews.

Site Training

Sites may implement OVS after the sponsor trains the site supervisor.

Below are questions and answers to assist sponsors in implementing the OVS option.

  1. Are SFSP sponsors required to use OVS?
    No. The use of OVS is not required in the SFSP. OVS is an option for sponsors.
  2. Does the NSD have discretion on whether or not to permit the use of OVS in the SFSP?
    The NSD has discretion to allow a particular sponsor or site to use OVS.
  3. If the NSD denies a SFSP sponsor's request to use OVS, is this a decision a sponsor may appeal?
    No. Sponsors may not appeal the denial of an OVS request. However, sponsors may submit another request the next operating year.
  4. Can Sponsors also use the SFSP Meal Pattern when using the OVS serving method?
    Yes. Sponsors can use the SFSP Meal Pattern. Non-school SFSP sponsors wishing to use OVS must follow the food-based menu planning approach requirement. This means a child may decline only one food item offered at breakfast and up to two of the food items offered at lunch or supper.

    Schools electing to use OVS must use the options relevant to their menu planning approach.
  5. Are sponsors required to offer all food components?
    Yes. All food components in the required serving sizes must be offered for a meal to be reimbursable.
  6. Can SFSP sponsors use past service history to place future orders to adjust the amount of food they order? For example, if order history shows that only 60 percent of the children take milk, can fewer cartons be ordered?
    Sponsors may use meal service history to place future orders. However, we encourage sponsors and sites to err on the side of caution when placing food orders.
  7. If a site runs out of a food component, are all the meals served after the required component is gone disallowed?
    Yes. If a site runs out of a food component, such as milk, all meals after that point must be disallowed because the site was unable to offer children a complete reimbursable meal.
  8. How many items may a child decline?
    In the SFSP, three food items must be offered at breakfast (one serving of the fruit or vegetable component, one serving of the bread or bread alternate component, and one serving of the fluid milk component). A child may only decline one of these items. If an additional item such as a meat/meat alternate is served as a fourth food item at breakfast and is refused, it is not counted as a declined item for OVS purposes.

    For lunch and supper, five food items must be offered (one serving of the meat or meat alternate component, two servings of the fruits and/or vegetables component, one serving of the bread or bread alternate component, and one serving of the fluid milk component). A child must take three of the five food items and is only allowed to decline two food items.
  9. What is a combination food?
    A combination food is a dish comprised of two or more food items that cannot be separated. Cheese pizza is a combination food that could contain three food items, i.e., a serving of grain (crust), a vegetable (tomato sauce), and a meat alternate (cheese). Other examples of foods that could contain multiple items include soups, prepared sandwiches, and burritos.
  10. If a site is using OVS, how do monitors ensure enough food is provided and children are walking away with enough food on their plate?
    During sponsors’ on site reviews, their monitors should observe a meal service and ensure that enough food is provided so that all children are offered a full meal and walk away from the serving line with the required number of food components on their plate/tray, making it a reimbursable meal. Maintaining production records is not a federal requirement in the SFSP. Monitors also may review policies, training materials, receipts, menus, inventories, and invoices.
  11. What will the NSD request to see during site visits and sponsors administrative reviews?
    The NSD will request the following items from sponsors:
    • Menus to ensure meals have the proper portion sizes and contributions to the meal component
    • Child Nutrition labels or manufacturer food specifications for foods that are commercially prepared that include portion sizes and contributions to the meal component
    • Recipes and invoices for vended food items
    The NSD may also ask for additional items on a case-by-case basis.

If you have questions regarding this MB, please contact your SFSP Specialist by phone at 800-952-5609, Option 6, or Melissa Garza, SFSP Specialist, by phone at 916-322-5885 or by e-mail at

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
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