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Meal Service Requirements in the Summer Meal Programs, with Questions and Answers – Revised

EO Guidance Document #
FNS Document #
SP10 SFSP06-2017
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Policy Memos
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PDF Icon Policy Memo (145.22 KB)
DATE:December 05, 2016
SUBJECT:Meal Service Requirements in the Summer Meal Programs, with Questions and Answers – Revised
TO:Regional Directors
Special Nutrition Programs
All Regions
State Directors
Child Nutrition Programs
All States

The purpose of this memorandum is to provide guidance on meal service requirements in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program’s (NSLP) Seamless Summer Option (SSO). This memorandum supersedes SP05 SFSP05-2016, Meal Service Requirements in the Summer Meal Programs, with Questions and Answers, Nov. 12, 2015.

What’s new? All new or significantly revised paragraphs/Q and A’s are noted with [New/Revised] at the beginning of the paragraph/question.

This revision:

  • Provides guidance on the updated CACFP meal patterns and the impacts on the SFSP and SSO.
  • Provides guidance on the order in which meals must be served to be eligible for reimbursement.
  • Extends flexibilities on the timing of meal service when extenuating circumstances occur.


Meal Service Times

In an effort to simplify program management, in October, 2011, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) issued a waiver of meal service time requirements under 7 CFR 225.16(c) ( Therefore, there are currently no Federal time limits placed on the duration of a meal service and no Federal requirements pertaining to the amount of time that must elapse between the beginning of one meal service and the beginning of the next. In practice, this has provided sponsors greater flexibility to meet local needs.

However, as clarified in the memorandum, sponsors must continue to establish meal times for each site and provide this information to the state agency to allow for effective oversight [7 CFR 225.6(c)(2)(B) and (3)(A)]. In addition, those provisions require that applicant sponsors must provide the state agency with information regarding the time of meal service at each site. However, sponsors are not required to ensure that a specific time period will elapse between the meal services. Meals must be served within the state-approved meal service times in order to be claimed for reimbursement and for the cost associated with such meals to be covered by program funds.

We note that occasionally, in the case of an unanticipated event outside of the sponsor’s control, a state agency may determine that meals served outside of the approved meal service time may still be claimed for reimbursement. Such unanticipated events have included, but are not limited to: extremely late deliveries, buses breaking down, and delays due to traffic issues and other circumstances. State agencies have the discretion to require supporting documentation to approve meals claimed when unanticipated events occur.

FNS encourages sponsors to establish meal service times that best accommodate operational requirements and the needs of participating children. Additionally, FNS encourages state agencies to approve meal times that give sponsors flexibility to accommodate operational challenges, such as children arriving early or late for meal service, while fulfilling program requirements. One best practice that FNS encourages is for sponsors and state agencies to implement approving a longer meal service time, for example from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., but advertising a shorter meal time, such as 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. This allows sponsors to serve children who may arrive early or late for the advertised meal time, but still operate within the approved meal service time.

While state agencies may establish meal time restrictions, this would be considered an additional state requirement and subject to Regional office (RO) notice and approval as required by 7 CFR 225.18(f). However, the state agency has the discretion to impose restrictions on specific sponsors based on review findings on a case-by-case basis.

In general, then, sponsors have significant flexibility in determining the duration of each meal service and the amount of time between meal services at each site. Recently, it has come to FNS’s attention that in summer 2016 some sponsors served a three component meal after lunch service and claimed this meal as a reimbursable “breakfast.” Section 13 of the Richard B Russell National School Lunch Act (NSLA), 42 USC 1761, authorizes the daily service of one breakfast and one lunch or one lunch and one supplement (snack) per participant in the SFSP. The SFSP is statutorily designed to support “programs providing food service similar to food service made available to children during the school year under” the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. The SFSP statutory and regulatory framework does not support the service of a reimbursable “breakfast” in the afternoon following the service of lunch. Therefore, a breakfast meal, or three component meal, is not eligible for reimbursement if it is served after a lunch meal, as breakfast is defined as a meal “which is to be served to a child in the morning hours… served at or close to the beginning of the child’s day…” [7 CFR 220.2].

Responding to the needs of different participating populations, however, is consistent with the SFSP flexibilities for meal service times and can be particularly beneficial in serving teen populations. FNS encourages sponsors to utilize the flexibilities already extended in regard to meal service times. Sponsors can advertise and serve a breakfast as the initial site meal later in the day, for example around 11:00 a.m, and serve lunch later in the afternoon, around 3:00 p.m.* Sponsors may also choose to serve additional food with any meal or snack, as SFSP meal patterns provide only the minimum amount of food required for a meal to be reimbursable. FNS supports the use of private donations to fund additional foods that are outside of the reimbursable meal.

* Please note that meal service requirements, including meal times, differ for school food authorities (SFA) participating in the SSO. Specifically, schools operating SSO must adhere to the NSLP and SBP meal time and meal pattern requirements. These requirements are outlined in the 2017 Edition of Questions and Answers for the National School Lunch Program’s Seamless Summer Option, available at:

Number and Type of Reimbursable Meals

Restrictions in SFSP on the number and type of meals that may be served each day, as established by 7 CFR 225.16(b), are as follows:

  • With state agency approval, sponsors of open, restricted open, and enrolled sites may serve up to two meals each day. Meal combinations consisting of a lunch and supper are not allowable. Allowable combinations include:
    • Breakfast and lunch
    • Breakfast and supper
    • Breakfast and snack
    • Lunch and snack
    • Supper and snack
    • Two snacks
  • With state agency approval, camp or migrant site sponsors may serve up to three meals each day. Allowable combinations include:
    • Breakfast, lunch, and supper
    • Breakfast, lunch, and snack
    • Breakfast, supper, and snack
    • Lunch, supper, and snack


Offer Versus Serve

Offer versus serve (OVS) is a concept that applies to menu planning and meal service which allows children to decline some of the food offered in a reimbursable breakfast, lunch, or supper, excluding snacks. The goals of OVS are to simplify program administration and reduce food waste and costs while maintaining the nutritional integrity of the SFSP meal that is served. All SFSP sites, regardless of location or type of sponsorship, may utilize OVS. Although SFSP regulations indicate that OVS is available only to school sponsors, FNS extended this option to non-school sponsors in October 2011. Utilizing OVS does not preclude the sponsor from maintaining a non-profit operation.

For a meal to be eligible for reimbursement, all food components in the required minimum serving sizes must be offered. A food component is one of the food groups that comprise a reimbursable meal. Sites must always offer all the food components that comprise a reimbursable meal in at least the minimum required amounts. A food item is a specific food offered within the food components comprising the reimbursable meal. For example, separate ½ cup servings of peaches and pears are two food items that comprise one component, the fruit and vegetable component.

All non-school sponsors electing to use OVS and schools participating in SFSP and electing to follow the SFSP meal patterns are required to follow the SFSP OVS requirements. Due to the distinguishing nature of the SFSP and NSLP, including variations in settings and resources, the OVS requirements in SFSP are different from the OVS requirements in NSLP. In order to ensure that children are receiving enough food to meet their nutritional needs, OVS requirements in SFSP are as follows:


  • The following four food items must be offered:
    • One serving of fruit/vegetable,
    • One serving of bread/bread alternate,
    • One serving of fluid milk, and
    • One additional serving of fruit/vegetable, bread/bread alternate, or a serving of a meat/meat alternate.
  • All the food items offered must be different from each other.
  • A child must take at least three of any of the four food items offered.

Lunch or Supper:

  • The following four food components must be offered through at least five different food items:
    • One serving of meat/meat alternate,
    • Two servings of fruit and/or vegetables (two different food items),
    • One serving of bread/bread alternate, and
    • One serving of fluid milk.

Offering two servings of the same food item is not permissible under OVS in SFSP. All food items offered must be different from each other. For example, a breakfast menu that includes a serving of milk, a serving of fruit, and two servings of toast is not a reimbursable meal under OVS in SFSP because the toast is two of the same food item. Similarly, if the breakfast menu included two different kinds of cereal rather than toast, it would still not be a reimbursable meal because the cereals, although not identical, are the same food item. Additionally, a larger food item that is worth two servings in weight, such as a two ounce muffin, counts as only one food item under OVS in SFSP, not two. Offering different food items supports and encourages the practice of offering a variety of food choices for children, which increases the likelihood that children will select foods they prefer and reduces waste.

OVS is an option for sponsors, not a requirement. Sponsors must indicate their intention to utilize OVS on the sponsor or site application. State agencies may not institute a statewide ban on OVS. However, specific sponsors or sites may be restricted from utilizing the option on a case-by-case basis. If a state agency denies a sponsor's request to use OVS in SFSP, the sponsor may not appeal the decision. The sponsor may submit another request the next operating year.

School sponsors that elect to use the NSLP or School Breakfast Program (SBP) meal pattern and SFAs operating SSO are required to follow the OVS requirements of NSLP and SBP. For more information, see 7 CFR 210.10(e), 7 CFR 220.8(e), and SP 57-2014, Updated Offer versus Serve Guidance for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program in School Year 2014-2015 at

Family Style Meal Service

Family style is a type of meal service that allows children to serve themselves from common platters of food with assistance from supervising adults setting the example. Camps and closed enrolled sites in SFSP and SSO have the option of utilizing family style meal service. Both camps and closed enrolled sites provide the stable environment required for a successful family style meal service to provide nutritious meals to children and promote healthy eating habits through the personal example provided by supervising adults.

FNS Instruction 783-3, Revision 1, Family Style Meal Service in the Summer Food Service Program, issued in August 1986, limits the family style meal service option to camps, which are stated as the only appropriate setting due to a camp’s stable environment for enrolled children. In December 2000, the definition of closed enrolled sites was codified in 7 CFR 225.2 as a site open only to enrolled children, as opposed to the community at large. Because closed enrolled sites provide a stable environment for enrolled children and an appropriate setting for family style meal service, FNS extended the option of family style meal service to closed enrolled sites in the SFSP and SSO in summer 2015. However, family style meal service is still prohibited at open and open restricted sites in the SFSP and SSO.

Family style meal service affords sponsors latitude in the size of the initial servings because replenishment is immediately available at each table. In SFSP and SSO, this latitude must be exercised in compliance with the following practices, at a minimum:

  1. A sufficient amount of food must be placed on each table to provide the required portions of each of the food components, including milk, as outlined in 7 CFR 225.16, for all children at the table and to accommodate program adults supervising the meal service, if they eat with the children.
  2. Children are allowed the choice in selecting foods and the size of the initial serving. Children should initially be offered the full required portion of each meal component.
  3. When a child does not initially accept the full required portion of a meal component, it is the responsibility of the supervising adults to actively encourage each child to accept the service of the full required portion for each food component of the meal pattern. For example, if a child initially refuses a food component, or initially does not take the full required portion of a meal component, the supervising adult should offer the food component to the child again.

As a reminder, all meal components must be served at the same time including when meals are served family style. These requirements are in line with family style meal service guidance in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Family style meal service allows children to identify and be introduced to new foods, new tastes, and new menus, while developing a positive attitude toward nutritious foods, sharing in group eating situations, and developing good eating habits. Even when a complete family style meal service is not possible or practical, it may be useful to offer a component or components in a family style manner, particularly when smaller children are being served or when a new food item is being introduced.


Age-Appropriate Meals

FNS recognizes that the SFSP meal pattern minimum serving sizes, which are designed for children ages 6 through 12 years old, may not be suitable for all children attending the summer site. Active teenagers may be hungrier than younger children and feel that the portion sizes are too small. Conversely, for children younger than 6 years old, the serving sizes may be excessive. Under these circumstances, SFSP sponsors may be approved to follow more age-appropriate meal patterns.

  • Meals for Children 12 through 18 years old: Because teenagers have greater food needs, SFSP regulations allow sponsors to serve larger portion sizes than the minimum serving sizes specified in the SFSP meal pattern [7 CFR 225.16(d)]. Additionally, sponsors serving teenagers may serve the adult-size portions found in the CACFP regulations under 7 CFR 226.20(c). It is important to note that there are no maximum limits on any of the food components in the SFSP meal pattern. As a reminder, extra foods may always be served to improve the nutrition of participating children, in addition to the food necessary to meet the meal pattern requirements. However, meals containing additional foods or larger portion sizes than the minimum required serving size receive the same reimbursement rate as regular SFSP meals. See question number 5 in Attachment A for more information about serving larger portion sizes and additional foods.
  • Meals for Children Under 6 Years Old: The SFSP regulations allow state agencies to authorize sponsors to follow the CACFP meal pattern requirements [7 CFR 226.20] for children under six years old, which include smaller portions sizes than are indicated in the SFSP meal pattern [7 CFR 225.16(f)(2)]. The sponsor must be able to ensure that each age group is receiving the appropriate minimum serving sizes indicated in the CACFP meal patterns. Food should always be of a texture and a consistency that is appropriate for the age and development of the children being served. For example, fruit should be cut into smaller pieces so that it is easier for younger children to eat.
  • [Revised] Infants: If a sponsor wishes to serve infants (birth to 11 months of age), they must first receive approval from their state agency [7 CFR 225.16(f)(2)]. Once approved to serve meals to infants, sponsors must follow the CACFP infant meal pattern requirements [7 CFR 226.20(b)].

Sponsors that follow the CACFP meal pattern requirements must be made aware that the CACFP meal pattern requirements were recently updated. On April 25, 2016 USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) published the final rule “Child and Adult Care Food Program: Meal Pattern Revisions Related to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” (81 FR 24348) to update the CACFP meal patterns in 7 CFR 226.20. Program operators, including SFSP sponsors and CACFP centers and day care homes that follow the CACFP meal patterns, must comply with the updated meal patterns no later than Oct. 1, 2017.

Therefore, SFSP sponsors following the CACFP meal patterns must comply with the updated meal patterns beginning in Summer 2018.

Similar to CACFP centers and day care homes, FNS recognizes that some SFSP sponsors may be interested in implementing the updated CACFP meal patterns in Summer 2017. In recognizing the benefits of and program operators’ interest in implementing the updated meal patterns prior to October 1, 2017, FNS provided guidance on how to implement the updated meal patterns in the memorandum SP 42-2016, CACFP 14-2016 Early Implementation of the Updated Child and Adult Care Food Program Meal Pattern Requirements and the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs’ Infant and Preschool Meal Patterns.

The early implementation options outlined in SP42 CACFP14-2016 are also available to SFSP sponsors following the CACFP meal pattern requirements. State agencies are provided expansive discretion to determine what is feasible for their CNP operators in relation to implementing the updated CACFP meal patterns. Therefore, SFSP sponsors may take advantage of any specific allowances a state agency elects to allow state-wide prior to Oct. 1, 2017 and claim those meals for reimbursement. In addition, state agencies may approve SFSP sponsors to implement the entire updated CACFP meal pattern requirements in Summer 2017.

As a reminder, FNS emphasizes that state agencies cannot disallow meals solely because they are not compliant with the updated CACFP meal patterns until the updated CACFP meal patterns are implemented on Oct. 1, 2017. This would apply even for those states choosing to implement one or both of the early implementation options in SP42 CACFP14-2016. In all cases, meals that meet the current CACFP meal pattern requirements must not be disallowed prior to Oct. 1, 2017.

SFAs Participating in the SSO

SFAs participating in the SSO are required to serve meals meeting the NSLP meal pattern. However, FNS issued comprehensive guidance for the SSO, which grants flexibility to the age/grade group requirements and allows open and restricted open sites to make accommodations. These flexibilities increase the ability of SFAs with diverse student populations to more easily participate in SSO, while still meeting meal pattern requirements. Refer to SP09-2017, 2017 Edition of Questions and Answers for the National School Lunch Program’s Seamless Summer Option for more information.

SFAs Participating in SFSP

SFAs participating in SFSP are allowed the flexibility of following the NSLP or SBP meal pattern requirements instead of the SFSP meal patterns [7 CFR 225.16(f)(1)(i)]. SFAs may begin following the NSLP or SBP meal pattern requirements at any time during the year. If an SFA chooses to make this switch, the SFA must notify its state agency, but the SFA does not need prior approval from the Stage agency. This flexibility allows SFAs to seamlessly continue implementation of NSLP or SBP meal pattern requirements year-round.

Meals Served to Adults

Sponsors have the discretion to serve meals to anyone. Only meals served to children may be claimed as reimbursable meals. Along with children ages 18 years and younger, SFSP regulations at 7 CFR 225.2 also defines children as persons over 18 years of age who are determined by the state or local educational agency or a local public education agency as having a mental or physical disability and who participate during the school year in a public or private non-profit school program established for the mentally or physically disabled. Therefore, meals served to any person who meets the above definition may be claimed as reimbursable meals.

Meals served to adults, other than those provided for in 7 CFR 225.2, must be reported differently than those served to children, depending on the classification of the adult served, as either a program or a non-program adult. The classification between the meal services requirements are as follows:

  • Program Adults work directly with the meal service at the site as either volunteers or paid employees. Meals may be served free to adults who meet this definition. Meals served to program adults cannot be claimed for reimbursement but they may be counted as an operating costs [7 CFR 225.9(d)(5)].
  • Non-Program Adults do not work in any direct way with the meal service at the site, such as a parent or guardian. Sponsors have the option to serve meals to non-program adults at no charge or charge the full cost of the meal. The cost of meals served to non-program adults may be counted as part of the sponsor’s operating costs only if the adult pays, or non-program funds cover, the full cost of the meal and the money received is reported as income to the program [7 CFR 225.2 definition of Income accruing to the program]. If meals are served to non-program adults, sponsors must either charge the adults at least the full cost of the meal, (including food and non-food supplies, labor, and the value of commodities), or use other non-program funds to cover the cost of these meals. When using non-program funds to cover the cost of these meals, the sponsor may include those funds as program income and pay for these meal costs from its nonprofit food service account.

Additionally, when a sponsor chooses to serve meals to adults, the following rules must be observed:

  • All children (including any person who meets the definition of children in 7 CFR 225.2 and child in 210.2 for SSO) must be fed first;
  • Income from the sale of adult meals and non-program funds used to pay for adult meals must be documented as income to the program to offset documented costs; and,
  • Meals served to children (including second meals), program adults, and non-program adults must be counted and recorded separately on the daily meal count form.

The calculation of meal costs should be based on the full cost of producing the meal (i.e., food, supplies, labor, and other costs incurred by the sponsor). Sponsors also should include the value of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods used to prepare the meal or this value may be based on the current year annual entitlement per meal value of USDA Foods.

SFAs participating in the SSO should refer to FNS Instruction 782-5, Revision 1, Pricing of Adult Meals in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, June 6, 1988, for more information on adult meals.

Leftover Meals

All sponsors must plan, prepare, and order meals with the objective of providing one meal per child at each meal service, and must ensure that entire meals and food components are not leftover and unusable on a frequent basis. Sponsors should regularly monitor and compare site reports on the number of attending children and the number of delivered meals to reduce waste and cost. When sites have leftover food, sponsors should promptly adjust orders to more accurately reflect the actual number of meal service participants. Additionally, all alternatives permitted by program regulations and state and local health and sanitation codes should be exhausted before discarding food.

FNS encourages state agencies to support efforts by sponsors to minimize food waste. Some options may include:

  • Transferring Meals: Extra meals may be transferred, if allowed by the local health code, from one site with excess meals to another site with a shortage. Seconds: When all children in attendance at the site have received one meal, sponsors may serve and claim reimbursement for second servings of complete meals of up to two percent of the number of first meals served to children, for each meal type, for all sites, during a claiming period [7 CFR 225.9(d)(4)]. Note, second meals may be disallowed if the state agency determines that the sponsor has failed to plan and prepare or order meals with the objective of providing only one meal per child at each meal service [7 CFR 225.15(b)(4)].
  • [Revised] Share Table: Sponsors may designate a “share table” or stations where children may return whole items that they choose not to eat, provided that this is in compliance with local and state health and safety codes. Unopened, unused, whole food items left on the share table are then available to other children who may want additional helpings. This practice may be facilitated by serving meal components that can be easily “recycled.” For example, if an apple is served as part of a meal, a child can return the apple to the share table.

    When equipment is available, complete meals and nonperishable components that remain on a share table may be appropriately stored for later service. All recycled food items must be stored in accordance with state and local health and safety codes and must be documented. Please check with your state and local health department or food service codes regarding sharing tables. For more information, please refer to SP41 CACFP13 SFSP15-2016 Memorandum, The Use of Share Tables in Child Nutrition programs, June 22, 2016 located at
  • Donations: When it is not feasible to reuse leftovers or store food, FNS encourages sponsors to consider donating it to non-profit organizations working to address hunger in the community, such as homeless shelters, food banks, and food pantries. Sponsors may also choose to send leftover meals or food home with children. Sponsor policies relating to food donations must comply with state and local health and sanitation codes.

    Although donated meals, including non-reimbursable meals or meal components sent home with children, may not be claimed for reimbursement in the SFSP, food donation avoids unnecessary waste and can save expensive disposal and storage costs. Additionally, by collaborating with other hunger organizations, sponsors can expand the reach of these important programs and build networks that better serve the community. Sponsors should refer to SP11 CACFP05 SFSP07-2012, Guidance on the Food Donation Program in Child Nutrition Programs, Feb. 3, 2012, at Guidance on the Food Donation Program in Child Nutrition Programs | Food and Nutrition Service, for more information.
Taking Meal Components Offsite

SFSP regulations require sponsors to ensure children consume meals at the site [7 CFR 225.6(e)(15)]. Therefore, meals must be consumed onsite in order to be eligible for reimbursement, unless the meal is served on a state agency approved field trip or offsite consumption is otherwise approved by FNS. In extenuating circumstances, sponsors may allow offsite consumption of meals as long as meals taken offsite are not claimed for reimbursement. Failure to meet this “congregate feeding” requirement results in the disallowance of meals and may lead to a determination of serious deficiency of the sponsor’s operation of the program [7 CFR 225.11(c)(4)].

However, sponsors may allow a child to take one fruit, vegetable, or grain item offsite for later consumption without prior state agency approval provided this is in compliance with state and local health and sanitation codes. Originally, FNS permitted sponsors to allow children to take only a fruit or vegetable off site with prior state agency approval. In October 2013, FNS extended this option to all sponsors without prior state agency approval and expanded the eligible food items to include grains [SP08 SFSP08-2014, Meal Service Requirements, Nov. 12, 2013]. The food item taken offsite must be from the child’s own meal or left on a “share table” by another child who did not want it.

Sponsors should only allow an item to be taken offsite if they have adequate staffing to properly administer and monitor the site, and to ensure that issues, particularly related to food safety and program integrity, do not arise. State agencies may prohibit individual sponsors on a case-by-case basis from using this option if the sponsor’s ability to provide adequate oversight is in question. The state agency’s decision to prohibit a sponsor from utilizing this option is not an appealable action.

SFAs operating SSO should follow the guidance on the consumption of meal service items outside of the designated food service area, at SP41-2014, Clarification of the Policy on Food Consumption Outside of Foodservice Area, and the Whole Grain-Rich Requirement,

State agencies are reminded to distribute this information to program operators immediately. Program operators should direct any questions regarding this memorandum to the appropriate state agency. State agency contact information is available at State agencies should direct questions to the appropriate FNS regional office.

Angela Kline
Policy and Program Development Division


Page updated: November 15, 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.