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School and Child and Adult Day Care Meals

Part of the COVID-19 Guidance for K-12 Schools published on March 17, 2020. Updated March 27, 2020.

On March 13, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-26-20 regarding the physical closure of schools by local educational agencies (LEAs) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order provides that even if schools close temporarily because of COVID-19, LEAs will continue to receive state funding for those days so that they can:

  • Continue delivering high-quality educational opportunities to students to the extent feasible through, among other options, distance learning and/or independent study;
  • Provide school meals in non-congregate settings through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO), consistent with the requirements of the California Department of Education (CDE) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA);
  • Arrange for, to the extent practicable, supervision for students during ordinary school hours; and
  • Continue to pay employees.

This guidance provides a framework for how LEAs can continue to deliver high-quality educational and meal opportunities to students when the school site is physically closed and the LEA has suspended onsite instruction. In providing this instruction, it is critical that LEAs take steps to ensure that these opportunities are available to all students, especially disadvantaged students. Safety of staff and students is another critical consideration. With safety in mind, the California Legislature on March 16, 2020, approved an initial $100 million for LEAs and child care centers to cover school cleaning expenses.

Recent Update:

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed into law H.R. 6201, Title II, COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Act. This law modifies USDA food assistance and nutrition programs to allow certain waivers to requirements for all federal Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) which includes:

  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
  • School Breakfast Program (SBP)
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  • Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
  • Summer Seamless Option (SSO)

On March 20, 2020, the USDA issued three new meal service waivers as part of the COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Act. CNP Operators are required to opt into the waiver flexibilities and this guidance provides information for seeking a waiver:

  • COVID-19: Child Nutrition Response #1, Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Service Time Flexibility in the CNP.

    This waiver removes the federal requirements for meal service times, allowing all CNP Operators to provide meals and snacks at times that meet the needs of the agency and their communities. For example, a grab-and-go pickup service for breakfast, lunch and snack could be provided at 8:00 a.m. to streamline program operations and minimize the frequency of pick up for families.
  • COVID-19: Child Nutrition Response #2, Nationwide Waiver to Allow Non-congregate Feeding in the CNPs

    This waiver now allows all CNP Operators to provide meals and snacks to children in a non-congregate feeding setting.
  • COVID–19: Child Nutrition Response #3, Nationwide Waiver of the Activity Requirement in NSLP Afterschool Snacks and CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals and Snacks

    This waiver removes the requirement for afterschool snacks in the NSLP to be served in a school or program with an educational or enrichment component and removes the requirement for the CACFP At-risk afterschool meal component to serve meals and snacks in a structured and supervised environment with an educational or enrichment activity.

Considerations for Serving Non-congregate Student and Child and Adult Day Care Meals during COVID-19

Federal nutrition meal programs play a critical role in responding to the nutritional needs of at-risk communities during a pandemic response. The CDE received federal Child Nutrition Program waivers from USDA to support local communities during COVID-19 school or child and adult day care site dismissals or closures.

The purpose of the School and Child and Adult Day Care Meals Guidance is to provide the requirements and information for offering non-congregate meals due to school or child and adult day care site dismissals or closures related to COVID-19.

Requirements for School Meals During COVID-19

Schools or other community organizations can request approval to operate the SSO or SFSP and serve non-congregate meals during COVID-19 at school sites that are dismissed or closed by submitting a request to The CDE Nutrition Services Division (NSD) can approve existing schools that typically operate SSO or SFSP in the summer months to open a COVID-19 SSO or SFSP site within 24 hours to 36 hours of their request. For these sites, no meal applications or fees are collected from children. CDE staff are monitoring this email address regularly.

The following is important information to include in the request:

  • Name of organization/school and list of school site closures the non-congregate food distribution will serve
  • Timeframe for starting meal distribution
  • Method(s) of meal distribution
  • Outreach efforts to communicate meal distribution
  • Method to focus services to families with children eligible for free and reduced-price meals
  • Basic information on meal counting, food safety, and oversight of the meal distribution, including information to offer foods for multiple days

To be eligible for federal reimbursement, meals can be served to all children 18 years and younger in communities where 50 percent or more of the children are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals. In communities with schools that have a student eligibility of less than 50 percent free or reduced-priced meals, the non-congregate meal distribution method needs to focus services to children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.Schools need to have reliable eligibility processes such as using existing Point of Service systems or rosters.

More than one meal type can be offered to each child. The meal types that each child can receive per day include any one of the following combinations:

  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Breakfast and snack
  • Lunch and snack
  • Two snacks

The CDE NSD will be providing updated meal flexibility requirements next week.

The Resource Section of this guidance includes a link to all meal rates. Below are the 2020 federal reimbursement rates for SFSP meals:

Type of Meal Rural or Self-Prep All Other Site Types
Lunch or Supper

Delivery of Non-Congregate Meals to Promote Social Distancing

Meal distribution sites should be located in areas that are easily accessible to children eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Schools do not need to distribute meals on a school site and can distribute them at another site convenient to the community such as, but not limited to, local food banks, resource centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, community centers, and libraries.

To allow for social distancing, non-congregate meal systems can vary based on community need and it is recommended that meals be taken away from the site and consumed elsewhere. Examples include:

  • Distributing meals using a school food truck
  • Sending a box or bag meal(s) home with students for multiple days up to one week (five days)
  • Keeping some school sites open to allow students to receive a meal
  • Partnering with local libraries that remain open to serve meals that are practicing social distancing
  • Setting up a drive through system in the parking lot to minimize contact. Families can drive through and pick up a meal for all children in the vehicle.

The first option is to offer non-congregate meal systems. If meals are consumed on site, the distribution and eating areas need to be created with social distancing protocols such as avoiding lines, arranging tables and chairs six feet apart, or spacing the meal service time. Tables and eating areas should be properly cleaned and sanitized and additional hand washing stations available to students.

Schools and community organizations that are operating SSO or SFSP during COVID-19 can also request approval to offer children shelf-stable meals for multiple days by submitting a request to Please note, USDA is expected to issue additional guidance on the heightened monitoring requirements for providing meals for multiple days.

Individuals serving meals should follow all COVID-19 prevention and hygiene guidelines including staying home when sick, washing hands for at least 20 seconds prior to handling or distributing food, avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and cleaning and disinfecting high touch surfaces. The California Department of Public Health has developed COVID-19 food service employee health and personal hygiene information, which can be found in the Resource Section of this guidance.

Home Meal Delivery During School Closure

Schools that have been approved for non-congregate feeding may deliver meals directly to student homes with CDE NSD approval. Delivery of meals can be completed by mail, delivery service, or hand-delivered by school staff. This option is only available to districts serving students of their own school sites due to student confidentiality regulations. Schools may submit a request to

Schools that choose to deliver meals may serve children who are in area eligible locations, or only those who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Children who attend Provision 2 or Community Eligibility Provision school sites are considered eligible for delivered meals.

Before initiating a home meal delivery service, schools must obtain written consent from households of eligible children. This consent can be obtained through e-mail or other electronic means. During this process, schools should also confirm the household’s current address and confirm the number of eligible children in the home to ensure the correct number of meals are delivered to the correct location.

When delivering meals, schools may utilize a distribution approach that includes meals for multiple days. In such instances, the district should ensure that proper food safety measures and social distancing guidelines are in place. Children do not need to be present for home delivery of meals as long as the school has obtained the household’s written consent.

For more information about meal delivery options during this COVID-19 outbreak, please see the USDA’s Question and Answer document:

Communication to Families

In order to ensure that parents, guardians, and students are aware of the availability of meals, schools and community organizations should communicate in multiple languages the availability of meals as widely as possible. Communication strategies to consider include:

  • Public announcements on radio or television
  • Email blasts
  • Social media messages
  • Automated phone calls
  • Website announcements
  • Newspaper notifications
  • Community partner newsletters
    • Food banks
    • Mayor’s Office
    • Boys and Girls Club
    • YMCA
    • Community Centers
    • Faith-based organizations

CA Meals for Kids Mobile App

The CDE CA Meals for Kids mobile app has been updated to help students and families find meals during COVID-19 related emergency school closures. The information identifies site location and meal service times. Only those COVID-19 sites that LEAs have submitted through the online Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS) are populated in this mobile app. The app is updated daily. The app is available for free download through Apple’s App Store, Google’s Play Store, and Microsoft’s App Store web pages

Requirements for CACFP Meals During COVID-19

The USDA requires Program Operators to request prior approval from the CDE NSD before using any of the three meal service waivers:

  • COVID-19: Child Nutrition Response #1, Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Service Time Flexibility in the CNPs
  • COVID-19: Child Nutrition Response #2, Nationwide Waiver to Allow Non-congregate Feeding in theCNPs
  • COVID–19: Child Nutrition Response #3, Nationwide Waiver of the Activity Requirement in NSLP Afterschool Snacks and CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals and Snacks

The online request for these waivers is located at After submitting your waiver request, you will be notified by email that your waiver(s) were approved.

For CACFP non-congregate COVID-19 meal service, only enrolled infants, children, and adults are eligible to receive meals. The CACFP has three meal patterns based on age group: infants, children and adults. Below are the links to each meal pattern.

The Resources Section of this guidance includes a link to various CACFP meal reimbursement rates by program type. CACFP Operators may serve any one of the following combinations:  

  • Breakfast, Lunch, and a Snack
  • Breakfast, Dinner, and a Snack
  • Breakfast and 2 snacks
  • Lunch, Dinner, Snack
  • Lunch and 2 Snacks
  • Dinner and 2 Snacks

CACFP Operators can contact their county specialist with questions regarding allowable meal combinations or email with any additional questions regarding the COVID-19 CACFP waiver process.

Use of USDA Foods During COVID-19

Due to COVID-19 and the Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for California, CNPs that participate in the USDA Food Distribution Program and have an approved waiver for non-congregate meal service can use their USDA Foods to serve meals during COVID-19.

Additionally, there are two more ways that USDA Foods may be used or donated:

  • If CNP Operators or LEAs have excess or perishable USDA Food inventory that they are unable to use, they may donate items to nonprofit or charitable organizations such as food banks. Additional USDA guidance can be found at CNP-02-2018, Please note that foods donated cannot be claimed as a food loss.

  • Disaster relief organizations may designate CNPs as feeding sites or request that CNPs provide their USDA Foods to other feeding sites. USDA Foods may only be released on request to recognized disaster relief organizations such as the American Red Cross or the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services as outlined in Management Bulletin (MB) 02-401 Use of USDA Foods in Disaster Feeding.

If you have any questions regarding the use of USDA Foods during a disaster, please contact


Log of SFAs using COVID-19 Waiver:

SFSP Meal Pattern:

SFSP Meal Pattern Guidance and Sample Menus:

USDA COVID-19 SFSP and SSO Meal Delivery Questions and Answer Guide:

SFSP and SSO Reimbursement Rates:

CACFP Reimbursement Rates:

CDE Disaster Resources:

USDA Guidance on Human Pandemic Response:

CDPH School Guidance:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can we ask for a statewide USDA waiver so CNP operators do not have to apply individually to CDE?

    Unfortunately not at this time. While USDA issued a national waiver process, it still requires CDE to approve each school or community organization request to operate SSO, SFSP or CACFP during COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis. In addition, the CDE needs to be involved to approve the request so that the sponsor has the pathway to submit reimbursement claims through our CNIPS.

  2. What are the implications of expanding the eligibility for free meals? How can we provide maximum flexibility around meals?

    Reimbursement through federal funds requires adherence to the eligibility requirements. At this time, deviation from these requirements will require the use of additional local funds. Schools, child and adult day care centers, and community organizations need to follow the eligibility requirements, so the meals can be reimbursable through federal dollars. The state is assessing non-federal funding opportunities and will update this guidance accordingly, including any federal allocation once details are finalized. Serving meals under SFSP is the most flexible meal pattern for school operators. At this time, CACFP operators must continue to use the CACFP meal patterns. School, child and adult day care centers, and community organizations should notify CDE NSD immediately if they are experiencing difficulties in purchasing the required meal components. CDE NSD must and will work through USDA to seek approval for additional flexibility.

  3. What are options around helping with the distribution of meals?

    Schools, community organizations, and CACFP operators approved to operate meal service flexibilities during COVID-19, can offer non-congregate meal service at schools and non-school sites. Some schools and child and adult day care centers are serving meals as grab-and-go and through a drive through service. With CDE approval, CNP operators that have the capacity to meet the food safety requirements can distribute shelf-stable meals for multiple days. Sample shelf-stable menus, using the SFSP meal pattern, is available in the Resources section.

  4. How can food vendors and companies help?

    Schools or other community organizations can contract with food vendors or other similar companies to provide meals. A CNP operator can conduct a noncompetitive procurement in the event of an emergency such as COVID-19. Emergency is defined as a “sudden, unexpected occurrence that poses a clear and imminent danger, requiring immediate action to prevent or mitigate the loss or impairment of life, health, property, or essential public services.” (California Public Contract Code Section 1102). COVID-19 meets this definition.

  5. If an LEA does not currently have a summer food service program, are they required to start one during the school closure period as a condition of continuing to receive state funding?

    LEAs are not required to start a summer food service program, but we would expect LEAs to meet this moment by implementing the necessary programs to do what they can to meet the needs of their students while schools are closed. CDE NSD can approve existing schools that typically operate SSO or SFSP in the summer months to open a COVID-19 SSO/SFSP site within 24 hours to 36 hours of their request. Information on how to apply is available at:

  6. In order to receive reimbursement, is it required to have children present at the time of meal distribution?

    On March 25, 2020, at 5:52 p.m., USDA issued state agency guidance that allows CDE NSD to establish a process and reporting system that holds CNP operators accountable to ensure meals are only provided to parents or legal guardians of eligible children when the child is not present for meal distribution. CNP operators must also ensure that duplicate meals are not distributed to any child. CDE will update this guidance in the coming days to reflect the state-established process.

  7. Can CNP operators allow children to pick up multiple days of meals at a time?

    Yes. The USDA waiver allows for the CDE to approve requests for CNP operators to provide multiple meals, up to one week (five days) at a time to children.

  8. Can schools send home meals with children for weekend consumption?

    No. Weekend feeding has not been approved by the USDA. Unanticipated school closures refer to the school day, which is Monday through Friday.

  9. Are all school meal sites uploaded on the CA Meals for Kids app?

    As of March 26, 2020, the CDE has processed waiver requests for over 5,000 emergency feeding sites. As schools continue to update the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System, these sites will be populated into the CA Meals for Kids App. For the most up-to-date information, families should contact their local school for the COVID-19 emergency meal sites in their communities. In the Resources Section of this document, there is a link to a list of sites approved to serve meals.

  10. Should schools be providing meals to students 18–22 that have an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) during emergency meal service?

    Yes. All students over age 18 that are enrolled in school and who meet the state agency’s definition of disabled, may receive meals under the Seamless Summer Option (SSO). Some districts are ensuring food service staff at the meal sites are aware of the written medical statements or the IEP/nutrition plan so that students are receiving appropriate and safe meals. Also, staff need to ensure that HIPAA (privacy) protocols are followed. One suggestion might be for school staff to provide copies of medical statements or the IEP/nutrition plan in a binder that is available to staff at all feeding sites.
Questions:   California Department of Education | 916-319-0800
Last Reviewed: Sunday, March 29, 2020
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