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Milk Requirements in the Child Nutrition Programs

This web page provides the milk requirements for the Child Nutrition Programs (CNP), including the meal pattern requirements, types of milks to offer, milk substitute forms, nutrient standards for milk, policy guidance, FAQs, and contacts.

Overview

Fluid milk is required in all of the CNPs, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Seamless Summer Option (SSO), NSLP Afterschool Snack Program, School Breakfast Program (SBP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and Special Milk Program. The definition of fluid milk is outlined in the Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR), Section 131.110 External link opens in new window or tab.. The fluid milk recommendation is based on the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The milk requirements can vary slightly by program. In any of the CNPs, if a student needs a fluid milk substitute due to a disability, it must be accommodated once the program operator is provided the appropriate form or a written medical statement that addresses the need for a milk substitute and is completed and signed by a state licensed healthcare professional. If a medical statement does not fully explain the modification needed, the program operator should immediately contact the child’s parent or guardian for guidance and ask the family to provide an amended medical statement as soon as possible. However, clarification of the medical statement should not delay the program operator from providing a meal modification. Program operators should follow the portion of the medical statement that is clear and unambiguous to the greatest extent possible, while obtaining the additional information. If a child has a nondisability reason for a fluid milk substitute, such as personal preference or religious need, program operators have the discretion to offer a fluid milk substitute once they are provided the appropriate form completed and signed by a parent or guardian. For a nondisability, the milk substitute that is offered must meet the nutritional specifications identified on the Nutrient Standards tab of this web page below. For more information and to access the above referenced forms regarding a milk substitution for a disability or nondisability, visit the Substitutions tab.

Nondairy beverages offered as fluid milk substitutes, such as plant-based milk alternatives, may be offered in the CNPs. If provided to children for nondisability reasons, the plant-based milk alternatives must be nutritionally equivalent to fluid milk and provide the required nutrients identified below on the Nutrient Standards tab of this web page.

Please note: There are separate requirements for selling milk or selling milk substitutes as a competitive beverage. For competitive beverage requirements, visit the California Department of Education (CDE) Competitive Foods and Beverages web page.

Meal Pattern Requirements

For each CNP, the fluid milk requirements can vary. Review the descriptions and use the links below for more information about each program’s requirement.

Meal Pattern Description
NSLP Meal Pattern web page In the NSLP, fluid milk is one of the five required components that program operators must offer students at lunch. At least two milk choices must be offered. Pasteurized, fluid types of milk that meet state and local standards and contain vitamins A and D at levels specified by the Food and Drug Administration must be offered. All milk must be fat-free or low-fat. Milk with higher fat content is not allowed. Fat-free and low-fat fluid milk may be flavored or unflavored; if flavored milk is offered, then the other milk choice must be unflavored. Low-fat or fat-free, lactose-free, and reduced-lactose fluid milk may also be offered.
SBP Meal Pattern web page In the SBP, fluid milk must be one of the three components offered to students at breakfast. At least two milk choices must be offered. Pasteurized, fluid types of milk that meet state and local standards and contain vitamins A and D at levels specified by the Food and Drug Administration must be offered. All milk must be fat-free or low-fat. Milk with higher fat content is not allowed. Fat-free and low-fat fluid milk may be flavored or unflavored; if flavored milk is offered, then then other milk choice must be unflavored. Low-fat or fat-free, lactose-free, and reduced-lactose fluid milk may also be offered.
NSLP Afterschool Snack Program Meal Patterns web page In the Afterschool Snack Program, fluid milk is one of four food components that can be served. Program operators only need to select two of the four components for a reimbursable snack. When milk is served as a snack component, it is not required that program operators offer a variety of milk choices. Please note that fluid milk cannot be served when juice is the only other food component available.
SFSP Meal Pattern External link opens in new window or tab.

In the SFSP, school food authorities that are program operators of the NSLP/SBP may substitute the SFSP Meal Pattern with the NSLP/SBP meal pattern (above).

However, if the program operator only operates the SFSP, then the SFSP meal pattern must be implemented, and only one type of milk needs to be offered.

SSO web page In the SSO, program operators use the NSLP and SBP meal patterns (above).
Special Milk Program web page In the Special Milk Program, only one type of fluid milk needs to be offered.

Requirements for Types of Milks Offered

Program operators must offer children pasteurized, fluid types of milk that meet state and local standards and contain vitamins A and D at levels specified by the Food and Drug Administration. The following regulations should be noted:

  • All milk must be fat-free or low-fat (1 percent). Milk with higher fat content is not allowed.
  • Fat-free fluid milk can be flavored or unflavored.
  • Low-fat (1 percent) fluid milk can be flavored or unflavored.
  • At least two types of milk must be offered for SBP, NSLP and SSO.
  • If schools offer flavored milk, then unflavored milk must also be available at the meal service.

Information regarding vitamin A and D level requirements is located on the Nutrient Standards tab.

Program operators have the option, but are not required to, offer children the following fluid milk options as long as they adhere to state and federal requirements:

  • Low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free, lactose-free, and reduced-lactose fluid milk
  • Organic milk or milk with a label indicating it was produced from cows not treated with hormones
  • Fluid milk substitutes

For more information visit the Substitutions tab of this web page.

Milk Substitutes

The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), Section 210.10 (m)(2)(ii)(B) requires that parents or legal guardians must request the fluid milk substitution in writing; the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not able to grant a waiver on this requirement. The written statement is required by statute and regulation when the fluid milk substitute is being served as part of the reimbursable meal.

Substitutes for Disability Reasons

  • Program operators must offer fluid milk substitutes to students for: (1) Disabilities, or (2) Medical needs when a state licensed healthcare professional (licensed physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner) completes and signs the CNP-925. The CNP-925 (CDE Medical Statement to Request Special Meals and/or Accommodations Form) is located in the Download Forms Section of the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System.

Substitutes for Nondisability Reasons

  • Program operators are given the discretion to offer fluid milk substitutes to students for (1) Medical and (2) Special Dietary needs, when the parent or guardian completes, signs, and returns the SNP-26: Parental Request for Fluid Milk Substitution for School-age Children. The SNP 26 is located in the Download Forms Section of the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System. Special dietary needs include those accommodations related to religious or moral convictions or personal preference. An electronic signature is acceptable on this form.

For more information on the program operator's role in providing milk substitutions, visit the CDE Final Rule: Fluid Milk Substitutions web page.

Nutrient Standards for Fluid Milk and Substitutes

A program operator who offers a milk substitute to a student for disability reasons, and has the Special Meals and/or Accommodations form on file, is required to provide the substitute that is requested by the state licensed healthcare professional (licensed physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner).  

If a program operator offers a milk substitute to student for nondisability reasons, and has a Parental Request for a Fluid Milk Substitution form on file, the nondairy beverage must provide the nutrients listed in the following table:

Nutrient Per one (1) cup (8 ounces)
Calcium 276 milligrams (mg)
Protein 8 grams
Vitamin A 500 International units (IU)
Vitamin D 100 IU
Magnesium 24 mg
Phosphorus 222 mg
Potassium 349 mg
Riboflavin 0.44 mg
Vitamin B-12 1.1 micrograms

Policy Guidance

The USDA and CDE have issued the following policy memoranda related to milk requirements. When merited, the CDE will release an additional management bulletin to include state specific policy guidance and further explain or clarify the topic listed below:

Release Date Subject Reference Number
June 2022 Transitional Meal Standards School Year 2022–23 and 2023–24 SNP-03-2022
March 2017 Modifications to Accommodate Disabilities SNP-02-2017
June 2016 Nutrition Requirements for Fluid Milk SNP-13-2016
April 2010 Final Rule: Fluid Milk Substitutions USDA-CNP-04-2010

Frequently Asked Questions

The CDE NSD is providing FAQs to help clarify common questions regarding milk requirements in the CNPs.

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Can schools use bulk milk dispensers, also called steel cows, to provide the milk component to students during meal service?

Yes. Schools may use bulk milk dispensers to provide milk to their students during meal service. Regulations do not mandate any specific type of packaging for milk served as part of the reimbursable meal, nor do they restrict the ability of schools to use milk dispensers. Schools may use these self-serve machines as long as they:

  • Offer at least two choices of fluid milk that meet the meal pattern guidelines

  • Take steps to ensure that children receive the required 8 ounce serving when selecting milk, such as procuring cups that are greater than 8 ounces to accommodate 8 ounces of milk

  • Update and display signage indicating the components in a reimbursable meal

  • Update policy and procedures to include how food service staff will monitor or check that students receive the full 8 ounce serving
Can fluid milk and fluid milk substitutes be sold as competitive beverages (beverages that are sold to students, on school campus, during the school day, and outside of the CNPs)?

Yes. Requirements for competitive beverages, including milk and milk substitutes, are different from requirements for the CNPs. For competitive beverage requirements, visit the CDE Competitive Foods and Beverages web page, select the Resources tab, and the Quick Reference Cards for competitive beverage requirements.

Is it an appropriate use of the food service account funds to offer milk, fluid milk substitutes, or plant-based milk as an a la carte item?

Yes. This only applies if a program operator chooses to offer the milk(s) as an a la carte item at no charge or at a price lower than the cost. However, because milk and other beverages offered outside of reimbursable meals are nonprogram foods, the program operators must generate adequate revenue from other nonprogram foods so that the total revenue meets the requirements in 7 CFR, Section 210.14(f). See Q 17, on page 36, in SP 10-2012v9.

Contacts

If you have any questions regarding milk requirements for the CNPs, please contact the School Nutrition Program Unit by email at SNPInfo@cde.ca.gov.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Friday, March 1, 2024
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