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California's State Meal Mandate

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program Sponsors

Attention: Superintendents, Food Service Directors, Chief Business Officials, and Personnel Officers

Number: SNP-11-2020

Date: November 2020

Reference: California Education Code (EC) sections 43503, 47612.5, 47613.5, 49531, 49550, 49557; Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), sections 220.8 and 210.10

Supersedes: Management Bulletin (MB) NSD-SNP-01-2009

Subject: Calfornia's State Meal Mandate

The purpose of this MB is to provide guidance on California’s state meal mandate. 

EC Section 49550 requires school districts and county offices of education (COE) to provide nutritionally adequate meals to pupils who are eligible for free and reduced-price (F/RP) meals every school day.ECSection 47613.5 extends this requirement to charter schools. Charter schools offering nonclassroom-based instruction must also offer at least one nutritionally adequate meal for eligible pupils on any school day that the pupil is scheduled for educational activities lasting two or more hours at a school site, resource center, meeting space, or other satellite facility operated by the charter school.

EC Section 49550(c) defines “school day” as any day that pupils in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive, are attending school for purposes of classroom instruction, including, but not limited to, pupil attendance at minimum days, state-funded preschool, transitional kindergarten, summer school including incoming kindergarten pupils, extended school year days, and Saturday school sessions.

A nutritionally adequate meal (breakfast and lunch) must meet the federal meal pattern requirements and is defined in EC Section 49531 as the following:

A nutritionally adequate breakfast is one that qualifies for reimbursement under the most current meal pattern requirement for the federal School Breakfast Program, as defined in 7CFR, Section 220.8. A nutritionally adequate lunch is one that qualifies for reimbursement under the most current meal pattern for the federal National School Lunch Program, as defined in 7CFR, Section 210.10.

Senate Bill 98 (Statutes of 2020) established EC Section 43503 that adds distance learning as an instructional model and requires school districts, COEs, and charter schools to provide nutritionally adequate meals for eligible pupils during schooldays in which those pupils participate in distance learning. 

Distance learning means instruction in which the pupil and instructor are in different locations and pupils are under the general supervision of a certified employee of the local educational agency. Distance learning may include, but is not limited to, all of the following:

  • Interaction, instructions, and check-ins between teachers and pupils through the use of a computer or communications technology
  • Video or audio instruction in which the primary mode of communication between the pupil and certified employee is online interaction, instructional television, video, telecourses, or other instruction that relies on computer or communications technology
  • The use of print materials incorporating assignments that are the subject of written or oral feedback
Nonclassroom-based charter schools do not provide distance learning as defined in EC Section 43500(a). As a result, this new requirement does not apply to nonclassroom-based charter schools that were defined as such pursuant to EC Section 47612.5 as of Fiscal Year 2019–20 unless their students are scheduled for in-person educational activities that are scheduled to last for two hours or longer.

School districts, COEs, and charter schools operating a distance learning model are not required to serve meals from every school site. However, they must ensure that students eligible for F/RP meals have access to a nutritionally adequate meal during each school day.

The state meal mandate for distance learning instructional models is contingent upon the California Department of Education (CDE) receiving an approved waiver to allow noncongregate feeding and meal service time flexibility from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each day of the scheduled school year. On October 9, 2020, the USDA extended nationwide waivers to allow noncongregate feeding and meal service time flexibility through June 30, 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. If another entity has a neighboring community site nearby that is offering free summer meals, can we send students there to meet the state meal mandate?

    No. Sending students to a community site run by another entity does not ensure the state meal mandate is met. The law specifies that public schools, COEs, and charter schools must provide a meal to their needy students.

  2. We provide bulk meal distribution one day a week, but some students are learning on campus a few days a week. Does the bulk meal distribution satisfy the state meal mandate?

    Schools must ensure that each child has a meal during days of on-site school instruction. For students receiving bulk meals and attending on-site instruction in a partial or full day capacity, please reach out to your School Nutrition Program analyst for guidance.

  3. What is the minimum amount of time that a student has to be in school in order for the state meal mandate to apply?

    EC Section 49550(c) does not specify a minimum number of hours. If students are receiving classroom based or distance learning instruction, the state meal mandate applies.

  4. Under what circumstances does the state meal mandate apply to nonclassroom-based charter schools?

    Nonclassroom-based charter schools must comply with the state meal mandate requirements and offer a free meal to needy pupils who are scheduled for educational activities, as defined in EC Section 49010, lasting two or more hours at a school site, resource center, or other satellite facility operated by the charter school.

  5. Does the state meal mandate still apply if a school district, COE, or charter school does not receive any federal or state child nutrition funds?

    Yes. EC sections 49550 and 47613.5 govern the need for and provision of school meals, regardless of a district’s, COE’s, or charter school’s participation in a reimbursable meal program. Therefore, every school district, COE, and charter school must formulate a plan to determine eligibility, make applications for F/RP meals available at all times during the regular school day, and serve meals without discrimination or separation.

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding the subject, please contact your county’s School Nutrition Program (SNP) Specialist. A list of SNP Specialists is available in the Download Forms section of the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System, Form ID Caseload. You can also contact the SNP Unit Office Technician, by phone at 916-322-3005 or 800-952-5609, Option 2, to be directed to your SNP Specialist.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Monday, November 16, 2020
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