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Grain Requirements for the NSLP and SBP

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy

To: National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program Sponsors

Number: USDA-SNP-28-2012

Attention: Food Service Director

Date: July 2012

Subject: Grain Requirements for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Policy Memo SP 30‑2012, April 26, 2012

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), has issued Policy Memo SP 30-2012, Grain Requirements for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) explaining the grain requirements and specifically addressing the ounce equivalencies and definition of whole grain-rich (WGR) products. The memo is available on the USDA FNS School Meals Policy Memos Web page at

The memo includes important information as School Food Authorities (SFAs) align their menus with the New Meal Pattern (NMP) and updated nutrition standards for the NSLP and SBP effective July 1, 2012. While highlights of the grain requirements are listed here, SFAs should read the memo in its entirety.
Whole Grain-rich Implementation Timeline

The USDA will phase in the WGR requirements over the next two School Years (SY) as follows:

  • Lunch: Beginning July 1, 2012, half of grains offered in the NSLP must be WGR. Beginning July 1, 2014, all grains offered in the NSLP must be WGR.
  • Breakfast: Beginning July 1, 2013, half of all grains offered in the SBP must be WGR. Beginning July 1, 2014, all grains offered in the SBP must be WGR.

Through SY 2013–14, SFAs and program operators should continue to refer to Section 3, Grains/Breads, of the Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs (CNPs), and Food and Consumer Service Instruction 783-REV 2, the Grains/Breads Requirements for Food-based Menu Planning Alternatives in the CNPs, for guidance on products meeting the grain requirements, but not the WGR requirements. For WGR products, SFAs and program operators should follow the requirements in Policy Memo SP 30-2012 effective July 1, 2012.

Whole Grain-rich Criteria

The USDA has outlined the basis for crediting items to meet the WGR requirements. Qualifying food items contain 100 percent whole-grain or contain a blend of at least 50 percent whole‑grain meal and/or flour along with enriched meal and/or flour (Note: this is a change from the previous requirement for 51 percent whole grain meal and/or flour)

The USDA has identified two elements to assist SFAs in determining if a grain product meets the WGR criteria. In summary, these elements are:

  • Element 1: The item meets the ounce equivalent (oz eq) requirements as defined by this guidance (see Policy Memo SP 30-2012 Exhibit A: School Lunch and Breakfast WGR Oz Eq Requirements for School Meal Programs).
  • Element 2: The item must meet one of the following:

    • The whole-grain content per oz eq must be 8.0 grams or more (based upon Exhibit A weights/volumes)

    • The product includes the Food and Drug Administration-approved whole-grain health claim on its packaging: "Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.”

    • The product ingredient declaration lists whole grains first (with the exception of water). For this sub-element, the memo provides detailed information for mixed dishes, non‑mixed dishes, flour blends, and ready-to-eat (RTE) breakfast cereals

Note: For flour blends grouped together in parentheses followed by additional ingredients [e.g. ingredients: flour blend (whole wheat flour, enriched flour), sugar, cinnamon, etc.], SFAs need to confirm that the whole grain content is at least 8.0 grams per oz eq or that the weight of the whole grain is greater than the ingredient immediately following the flour blend (e.g. sugar).

Criteria for Determining Equivalent Minimum Serving Sizes

Effective July 1, 2012, the updated meal patterns include requirements for WGR products based upon oz eq. However, to provide SFAs and manufacturers sufficient time to change specifications and revise products, the USDA will allow the crediting of grain products based upon the current 14.75 grams of grains per serving through June 30, 2013. Beginning July 1, 2013, grain products must be credited based upon the oz eq method as summarized below:

  • Baked goods (breads, biscuits, bagels, etc.): 16 grams creditable grain ingredients
  • Cereal grains (oatmeal, pasta, brown rice): one oz eq is 28 grams of dry product (about 1.0 oz by weight) or ½ cup cooked volume
  • RTE breakfast cereals: one oz eq is 28 grams or 1.0 oz of product.

Note: SNPs who wish to do so may adopt the updated grain requirements identified in Exhibit A of the policy memo during SY 2012–13.

Additional Information on Grain Requirements

The following includes a number of additional criteria that SFAs must consider in meeting the WGR requirements.

  • Weekly Grain Minimums and Maximums: The NMPs provide a weekly minimum and maximum range, by age group, to meet the grain requirements. All grains offered must be counted toward meeting these range requirements.
  • Grain-Based Desserts (e.g. graham crackers): Of the total lunch grains per week, up to two (2.0) oz eq grains may be a grain-based dessert.
  • Breaded and/or Battered Products: During the 2012–13 SY, SFAs will not be required to count grains that are part of breaded and/or battered products. However, beginning July 1, 2013 (SY 2013–14), grains offered from these products must be counted toward the weekly grain requirement.

Policy Memo SP 30-2012 also provides information on the contribution of grains from recipes or product formulation, minimum creditable quantities of grains, and additional information on the use of Exhibit A.

For more information on the grain requirements for the NSLP and SBP, please contact Julie BoarerPitchford, Nutrition Education Consultant, by phone at 916-322-1563, or by e-mail at

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, September 20, 2017
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