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Meal Substitutions for Medical or Other Special Dietary Reasons

EO Guidance Document #
FNS Document #
783-2 REV. 2
Resource type
Guidance Documents
Resource Materials
PDF Icon 783-2 REV. 2 (226.81 KB)

Child nutrition program regulations require participating school food authorities, institutions and sponsors to offer to all participants breakfasts, lunches, suppers, supplements and milk which meet the meal patterns identified in the program regulations. Departmental regulations further require substitutions to the standard meal patterns for participants who are considered handicapped under 7 CFR Part 15b and whose handicap restricts their diet; and permit substitutions for other participants who are not handicapped but are unable to consume regular program meals because of medical or other special dietary needs. The provisions requiring substitutions for handicapped participants respond to the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's implementing regulations, 7 CFR Part 15b, which provide that no otherwise qualified handicapped individuals shall, solely on the basis of handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefit of, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

This Instruction outlines the policy for food substitutions and other modifications in the meal patterns necessary to meet the dietary requirements of program participants with handicaps and with other special dietary needs. School food authorities, institutions and sponsors are required to offer program meals to participants with handicaps whenever program meals are offered to the general populations served by the programs. School food authorities, institutions and sponsors should be aware that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) imposes requirements on states which may affect them, including the service of meals even when such service is not required by the child nutrition programs.

For example, the individualized education program developed for a child under the IDEA may require a meal to be served outside of the regular meal schedule for program meals or may require a breakfast to be served in a school food authority which does not participate in the School Breakfast Program. While the school food authority, institution or sponsor may not claim these meals as Program meals, it may use the same food service facilities or food service management company to provide these meals as it uses to provide Program meals, and Program funds may be used to pay for the costs associated with the IDEA-required meals. Inquiries regarding the IDEA's requirements should be directed to the U.S. Department of Education, the Agency responsible for the IDEA's administration and enforcement.

School food authorities, institutions and sponsors may also have responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Inquiries regarding a school food authority's, institution's or sponsor's responsibilities under the ADA should be directed to the U.S. Department of Education, the agency responsible for the enforcement of the ADA's requirements in elementary and secondary education systems.

I Handicapped Participants
"Handicapped person" is defined in 7 CFR 15b.3(i) as any person who has "a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment." (See Exhibit A, 7 CFR 15b.3.) "Major life activities" are defined in 7 CFR 15b.3(k) as "functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working." School food authorities, institutions and sponsors participating in the child nutrition programs are required to make substitutions or modifications to the meal patterns for those participants with handicaps who are unable to consume the meals offered to nonhandicapped participants. Determinations of whether or not a participant has a handicap which restricts his or her diet are to be made on an individual basis by a licensed physician. (Licensed physicians include Doctors of Osteopathy in many states.) The physician's medical statement of the participant's handicap must be based on the regulatory criteria for "handicapped person" defined in 7 CFR Part 15b.3(i) and contain a finding that the handicap restricts the participant's diet. In those cases in which the school food authority, institution or sponsor has consulted with the physician issuing the statement and is still unclear whether the medical statement meets the regulatory criteria, the school food authority, institution or sponsor may consult the state agency.

A participant whose handicap restricts his or her diet shall be provided substitutions in foods only when supported by a statement signed by a licensed physician. The medical statement shall identify:


  1. The participant's handicap and an explanation of why the handicap restricts the participant's diet;
  2. The major life activity affected by the handicap; and
  3. The food or foods to be omitted from the participant's diet, and the food or choice of foods that must be substituted. If the handicap would require caloric modifications or the substitution of a liquid nutritive formula, for example, this information must be included in the statement. If the handicapped participant requires only textural modification(s) to the regular Program meal, as opposed to a meal pattern modification, the medical statement is recommended, but not required. In such cases, the purpose of the statement is to assist the school food authority, institution or sponsor in providing the appropriate textural modification(s). Unless otherwise specified by the physician, the meals modified for texture will consist only of food items and quantities specified in the regular menus.

The state agency should make 7 CFR 15b.3 (Exhibit A) available to school food authorities, institutions and sponsors. The school food authority, institution or sponsor should also provide parents or guardians with 7 CFR Part 15b.3, so that their physicians may correctly assess whether an individual's handicap meets the regulatory criteria. School food authorities, institutions and sponsors should use the services of a Registered Dietitian to assist in implementing the medical statement, as appropriate.

Page updated: November 24, 2021

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.