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Lunch Meal Pattern (Grades K-12)


Overview

Program operators of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are required to use meal patterns and dietary specifications established by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop menus and serve meals to students. The USDA is taking a multi-step approach to update the school meal nutrition standards. The final rule, Transitional Standards for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium serves as a bridge for School Years 2022–23 and 2023–24, and is effective July 1, 2022.

Meal Pattern Requirements

Measurement abbreviations: Cup = c, Ounce Equivalent = oz eq, Calories = kcal, Grams = g, and Milligrams = mg

Minimum Amount of Fooda Per Week

Meal Components Grades
K–5
Grades
K–8
Grades
6–8
Grades
9–12
Fruitsb 2½ c
(½ c per day)
2½ c
(½ c per day)
2½ c
(½ c per day)
5 c
(1 c per day)
Vegetablesb 3¾ c
(¾ c per day)
3¾ c
(¾ c per day)
3¾ c
(¾ c per day)
5 c
(1 c per day)
Dark Greenc ½ c ½ c ½ c ½ c
Red/Orangec ¾ c ¾ c ¾ c 1¼ c
Beans and Peas (legumes)c ½ c ½ c ½ c ½ c
Starchyc ½ c ½ c ½ c ½ c
Otherc,d ½ c ½ c ½ c ¾ c
Additional Vegetables to Reach Totale 1 c 1 c 1 c 1½ c
Grain Minimums*,f 8-9 oz eq
(1 oz per day)
8-9 oz eq
(1 oz per day)
8-10 oz eq
(1 oz per day)
10-12 oz eq
(2 oz per day)
Meats/Meat Alternate Minimums* 8-10 oz eq
(1 oz per day)
9-10 oz eq
(1 oz per day)
9-10 oz eq
(1 oz per day)
10-12 oz eq
(2 oz per day)
Fluid Milkg 5 c
(1 c per day)
5 c
(1 c per day)
5 c
(1 c per day)
5 c
(1 c per day)

 

Specifications: Daily Amount Based on the Average for a 5-Day Week

Specifications Grades
K–5
Grades
K–8
Grades
6–8
Grades
9–12
Min-max caloriesh 550–650 kcal 600–650 kcal 600–700 kcal 750–850 kcal
Saturated Fat (% of calories)h < 10% < 10% < 10% < 10%
Sodium Target 1h,i ≤1,230 mg ≤ 1,230 mg ≤ 1,360 mg ≤ 1,420 mg
Sodium Target 1A h,i ≤ 1,110 mg ≤ 1,110 mg ≤ 1,225 mg ≤ 1,280 mg
Trans Fath,j 0 g 0 g 0 g 0 g

 

* U.S. Department of Agriculture has lifted the weekly maximums for grain and meat/meat alternates. The daily and weekly minimums for grains and meat/meat alternates still apply. The maximums are used as a guide for menu planning purposes only.

a Food items included in each group and subgroup and amount equivalents as outlined in the most current U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Buying Guide web page External link opens in new window or tab..

b One quarter cup of dried fruit counts as one half cup of fruit; one cup of leafy greens counts as one half cup of vegetables. No more than half of the fruit or vegetable offerings may be in the form of juice. All juice must be 100 percent full-strength. The minimum creditable serving for a fruit or vegetable is at least one eighth cup.

c Larger amounts of these vegetables may be served.

d This category consists of “Other Vegetables” as defined in Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR) Section 210.10(c)(2)(iii)(E). For the purposes of the National School Lunch Program, the “Other Vegetables” requirement may be met with any additional amounts from the dark green, red/orange, and beans/peas (legumes) vegetable subgroups as defined in 7 CFR Section 210.10(c)(2)(iii).

e Any vegetable subgroup may be offered to meet the total weekly vegetable requirement.

f At least 80 percent of all grains offered weekly must be whole grain-rich. The remaining 20 percent or less of grains, if any, must be enriched. A whole grain-rich product contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight, with any remaining grains being enriched.

g 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. Low-fat or fat-free, lactose-free, and reduced-lactose fluid milk may also be offered.

h Discretionary sources of calories (solid fats and added sugars) may be added to the meal pattern if within the specifications for calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Food products and ingredients must contain zero grams of trans fat (less than 0.5 grams) per serving.

i For SY 2022–23 (beginning July 1, 2022) the weekly sodium limit for school lunch remains Sodium Target 1. For SY 2023–24 (beginning July 1, 2023), the sodium limit changes to Sodium Interim Target 1A. Note that sodium limits apply to the average meal offered during the school week, not daily or per-meal.

j Nutrition label of manufacturer specifications must indicate zero grams of trans fat per serving.

Please note: For offer versus serve, every student must take ½ cup fruit and or vegetable or combination of both to count as a reimbursable meal.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Thursday, June 23, 2022
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