Skip to main content

Alternate Menu Planning Approaches – Calorie and Nutrient Standards

EO Guidance Document #
FNS Document #
Resource type
Policy Memos
Guidance Documents
Resource Materials
PDF Icon Policy Memo (112.00 KB)
DATE: November 19, 2007
SUBJECT: Alternate Menu Planning Approaches – Calorie and Nutrient Standards
TO: Special Nutrition Programs
All Regions
State Agencies
Child Nutrition Programs
All States

Several state agencies (SAs) have expressed interest in developing and/or approving alternate menu planning approaches in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program as referenced in 7 CFR 210.10(l)(3) and 7 CFR 220.8(h)(2). This memorandum clarifies the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) policy regarding the calorie and nutrient requirements for meals planned using alternate menu planning approaches.

As background, section 9 of the National School Lunch Act mandates that school lunches and school breakfasts provide one-third and one-fourth of the daily recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) and energy allowances, respectively, when averaged over a week. The RDAs reflect nutrient intake levels that meet the needs of most children by targeting nutrient levels needed not only to prevent nutrient deficiencies, but also to reduce the risk of chronic disease. These nutrient standards are found in 7 CFR 210.10(c) and (d) and 7 CFR 220.8(b) and (c).

As cited in 7 CFR 210.10(l)(4)(iii) and 7 CFR 220.8(h)(3)(iii), an alternate menu planning approach must meet the statutory requirements for one-third or one-fourth of the RDAs for calories and the specified nutrients, indicate the age/grade groups served, and how the nutrient levels are met for those age/grade groups.

All USDA-approved nutrient analysis software contains this data set to help SAs and SFAs determine the appropriate nutrient standards for any age/grade group based on the RDAs.

When designing an alternate menu planning approach, SAs and SFAs must describe how they will monitor schools which use this approach to assure that the required calorie and nutrient standards, based on the RDAs for the age/grade groups, are met. During School Meals Initiative reviews, SAs must evaluate the alternate menu planning approach using the appropriate calorie and nutrient standards.

Until final regulations modify the calorie and nutrition standards, SAs and SFAs may not establish new energy allowances and nutrient standards for protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium. SAs and school food authorities (SFAs) may use established age/grade groups or create unique age/grade groups as part of an alternate menu planning approach. Regardless of the age /grade grouping, the meals must provide the minimum energy allowances and specified nutrients at the required levels. FNS created a Standard RDA Data Set for each age level that indicates the one-third and one fourth calorie and nutrient requirements. (See the attached charts.)

Child Nutrition Division


Page updated: February 07, 2023

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.