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Proposed Rule: Revisions to Meal Patterns to be Consistent with the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

February 8, 2023

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NCA will be reaching out to stakeholders to obtain feedback through the end of February.  For immediate feedback contact USDA is accepting comments until May 10.

The USDA released a document with proposed revisions to Child Nutrition Programs’ meal patterns in order to be consistent with the 2020 dietary guidelines for Americans. Key proposed changes that affect CACFP include: 

  • New “added sugar” standards for breakfast cereals and yogurts 
  • Flavored milk restrictions, dependent on age-group, in future rulemaking 
  • Vegetables can be substituted for grains in programs that primarily serve American Indian or Alaska Native children 
  • Nuts and seeds may credit for the full meat/meat alternate component 
  • Terminology Changes 

The proposed rule will be phased, with the first changes taking effect in Fall 2024 and final updates would be complete by Fall 2029. 

Added Sugars 

Current Requirements: Current CACFP regulations state that breakfast cereals must contain no more than 6 grams of total sugar per dry ounce (7 CFR 226.20(a)(4)(ii)) and that yogurt must contain no more than 23 grams of total sugars per 6 ounces (7 CFR 226.20(a)(5)(iii)(B)). 

Proposed Changes: Under this proposed rule, breakfast cereals would be limited to 6 grams of added sugars per ounce and yogurts would be limited to 12 grams of added sugars per 6 ounces. For consistency, USDA also proposes to apply the product-based added sugars limits for breakfast cereals and yogurts to the CACFP; the added sugars limits would replace the current total sugar limits for breakfast cereal and yogurt in CACFP. Total sugars include both added sugars and sugars naturally present in many nutritious foods and beverages, such as sugar in milk and fruit, while added sugars include sugars that are added during the processing of foods, foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. 

USDA is also proposing to update the CACFP total sugars limits for breakfast cereals and yogurts to align with the proposed NSLP and SBP added sugars limits for ease of operations. 

*Note: Because most sugars included in breakfast cereals are added sugars, USDA does not expect this change to significantly impact the types of breakfast cereals allowed in CACFP. Yogurt contains sugars found naturally in milk and fruit, making it more difficult to directly compare the current total sugars limit in CACFP to the proposed added sugars limit. However, USDA has confirmed that a variety of yogurt products that meet the current CACFP total sugars limit would also meet the proposed added sugars standard. 



Current Requirements: Fat-free and low-fat milk, flavored and unflavored, may also be offered to participants ages 6 and older in the CACFP (226.20(a)(1)(iii)). 

Proposed Changes: This rulemaking proposes two alternatives for the milk standard in NSLP only: 

  • Alternative A: Proposes to allow flavored milk (fat-free and low-fat) at school lunch and breakfast for high school children only, effective SY 2025-2026. Under this alternative, USDA is proposing that children in grades K-8 would be limited to a variety of unflavored milk. The proposed regulatory text for Alternative A would allow flavored milk for high school children only (grades 9-12). USDA also requests public input on whether to allow flavored milk for children in grades 6-8 as well as high school children (grades 9-12). Children in grades K-5 would again be limited to a variety of unflavored milk. Under both Alternative A scenarios, flavored milk would be subject to the new proposed added sugars limit. 
  • Alternative B: Proposes to maintain the current standard allowing all schools to offer fat-free and low-fat milk, flavored and unflavored, with the new proposed added sugars limit for flavored milk.

This rulemaking also proposes to continue to allow fat-free and low-fat milk, flavored and unflavored, to be offered to participants ages 6 and older in the SMP and CACFP. While not proposed in this rulemaking, should Alternative A be finalized with restrictions on flavored milk for grades K-8 or K-5 in NSLP and SBP, USDA also requests public input on whether to pursue a similar change in SMP and CACFP.


Whole Grains 

Current Definition: Whole grain-rich products must contain at least 50 percent whole grains and the remaining grains in the product must be enriched. 

Proposed Changes: USDA also proposes to add a regulatory definition of “whole grain-rich” for clarity. The definition would read as follows: Whole grain-rich is the term designated by FNS to indicate that the grain content of a product is between 50 and 100 percent whole grain with any remaining grains being enriched. This proposed definition would not change the meaning of whole grain-rich, which has previously been communicated in USDA guidance; USDA is instead proposing to define the term in regulation for clarity. This definition would be included in NSLP, SBP, and CACFP regulations. 


Menu Planning Options for American Indian and Alaska Native Students 

Current Requirements: In American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands, the following variations from the meal requirements are authorized: A serving of a starchy vegetable - such as ufi, tanniers, yams, plantains, or sweet potatoes - may be substituted for the bread requirements. 

Proposed Changes: USDA proposes to revise 7 CFR 225.16(f)(3) and 226.20(f) to allow institutions and facilities, or sponsors, as applicable, that serve primarily American Indian or Alaska Native children to substitute vegetables for grains or breads. This proposal is also extended to the CACFP and SFSP. 

For the CACFP and SFSP, the institution, facility, or sponsor would also be required to maintain documentation demonstrating that the site qualifies for this menu planning option. For CACFP and SFSP, the determination that an institution, facility, or sponsor serves primarily American Indian or Alaska Native children would be made in one of two ways: 

  • For enrolled sites, the institution, facility, or sponsor determines, based on participant self-reporting, that American Indian or Alaska Native children represent the largest demographic group of enrolled children. 
  • For non-enrolled sites, the institution, facility, or sponsor determines that American Indian or Alaska Native children represent the largest demographic group of children served by the site, based on school or census data. 


Nuts and Seeds 

Current Requirements: Current regulations allow nuts and seeds and nut and seed butters to be served as a meat/meat alternate in the child nutrition programs. In all child nutrition programs, nut and seed butters may credit for the full meat/meat alternate requirement. However, there is some variation for crediting of actual nuts and seeds in the programs. Lunch and supper regulations limit nut and seed crediting to 50 percent of the meat/meat alternate component (7 CFR 210.10(c)(2)(i)(B), 225.16(d)(2), 225.16(e)(5), and 226.20(a)(5)(ii)). CACFP regulations for breakfast do not explicitly include the 50 percent limit for nuts and seeds, but refer to USDA guidance, which includes the 50 percent limit (7 CFR 226.20(a)(5)(ii)). Snack regulations and USDA guidance on snacks do not include the 50 percent limit; nuts and seeds may credit for the full meat/meat alternate component when offered as part of a snack (7 CFR 210.10(o)(2)(ii)(B), 7 CFR 225.16(e)(5), and 226.20(a)(5)(ii)). For programs where nut and seed crediting is limited to 50 percent of the meat/meat alternate component, program operators choosing to serve nuts and seeds must serve them alongside another meat/meat alternate in order to meet the component requirement. 

Proposed Changes: This rulemaking proposes to allow nuts and seeds to credit for the full meat/meat alternate (or protein source) component in all child nutrition programs and meals. This proposal would remove the 50 percent crediting limit for nuts and seeds at breakfast, lunch, and supper. 


Geographic Preference Expansion 

Current Requirements: Effective October 1, 2008, institutions receiving funds through the child nutrition programs could apply an optional geographic preference in the procurement of unprocessed locally grown or locally raised agricultural products. This provision applies to institutions in all of the child nutrition programs, including the NSLP, SBP, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, SMP, CACFP, and SFSP, as well as to purchases made for these programs by the USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. 

Proposed Changes: USDA is proposing a change in this rulemaking to expand geographic preference options by allowing locally grown, raised, or caught as procurement specifications (a written description of the product or service that the vendor must meet to be considered responsive and responsible) for unprocessed or minimally processed food items in the child nutrition programs, in order to increase the procurement of local foods and ease procurement challenges for operators interested in sourcing food from local producers.  


Terminology: Protein Source Component 

Current Requirements: Current child nutrition program regulations use the term “meat/meat alternate” for the meal component that includes dry beans and peas, whole eggs, tofu, tempeh, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, yogurt, soy yogurt, peanut butter and other nut or seed butters, and nuts and seeds. 

Proposed Changes: USDA proposes to change the name of the meat/meat alternate meal component in the NSLP, SBP, and CACFP regulations to “protein sources.” Under this proposal, all references in 7 CFR parts 210, 220, and 226 to “meats/meat alternates” would change to “protein sources”. The foods within this meal component would remain unchanged. USDA is not including SFSP regulations (7 CFR part 225) with this change. 



Meal Pattern Table Revisions: USDA also proposes several changes to the child nutrition program meal pattern tables: 

  • Add minimum creditable amounts to all meal components in the school lunch and breakfast meal pattern tables. 
  • Change references to “food components” to “meal components”. 
  • Revise table footnotes so that related footnotes are grouped together. 
  • Change references from “grains” to “grain items” in footnotes to meal pattern tables. 
  • Update protein sources rows in CACFP meal pattern tables, to use ounce equivalents and refer to protein sources generally, instead of listing specific foods within this category. 

7 CFR Part 226: Child and Adult Care Food Program; 7 CFR 226.20 Requirements for meals: 

  • Change all references from “food components” to “meal components”. 
  • 7 CFR 226.20(a)(5)(i)(E): Remove “Peanut butter” from paragraph (i), as peanut butter is covered by paragraph (ii). 
  • In meal pattern tables, revise certain endnotes for clarity and combine related footnotes to improve readability. 


To read more about the proposed revisions, read Child Nutrition Programs: Revisions to Meal Patterns Consistent With the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You can also reference USDA’s comparison chart and their webpage on the proposed rule.