Child Nutrition Technical Assistance | Ohio Department of Education

School Year 2021-2022 School Meal Programs Guidance



Each child is unique and has basic needs – including nutrition – that must be met to enable learning. As schools resume child nutrition program operations for school year 2021-2022, schools must change traditional meal service operations and practices to help diminish the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) while continuing to provide nutritious meals. To achieve this goal, the Ohio Department of Education has developed this technical assistance resource to provide schools important updates and information to operate successful child nutrition programs for the 2021-2022 school year. 


On April 20, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced flexibilities for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) through June 2022. The waivers support a successful school reopening in school year 2021-2022 and access to nutritious meals for program participants.   

  1. Nationwide Waiver to Allow the Seamless Summer Option Allows Seamless Summer Option (SSO) operations through June 30, 2022. 
  2. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Reimbursement Rates School food authorities can claim NSLP SSO meals and snacks at the SFSP reimbursement rates. 
  3. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Non-Congregate Meal Service  Meals can be served in non-group settings to support social distancing. 
  4. Nationwide Waiver of Mealtimes Requirements Meals may be served to kids outside traditional times to maximize flexibility for meal pick-up.
  5. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children Allows parents/guardians to pick up meals and bring them home to their children. 
  6. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Specific School Meal Pattern Flexibility Provides the flexibility to serve meals that do not meet specified meal pattern requirements when needed.  
  7. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Specific Meal Pattern Flexibility in the Child and Adult Care Food Program  Permits states the flexibility to serve meals that do not meet specified meal pattern requirements when needed. 
  8. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Offer Versus Serve Flexibility for Senior High Schools Establishes a nationwide waiver to support access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to the novel coronavirus for school year 2021-22. 
  9. Nationwide Waiver of Area Eligibility in the Afterschool Programs and for Family Day Care Home Providers FNS allows schools and at-risk afterschool care centers, regardless of their location, to claim all National School Lunch Program Afterschool Snack Service and Child and Adult Care Food Program At-risk Afterschool Program meals and snacks at the free rate.  
  10. Nationwide Waiver of Onsite Monitoring Requirements in the School Meal Programs – Revised – EXTENSION 3 Flexibilities for specific monitoring and review requirements for school meal programs. 
  11. Nationwide Waiver of Onsite Monitoring Requirements for State Agencies in the Child and Adult Care Food Program – EXTENSION 3 FNS has provided flexibilities for certain monitoring and review requirements for school meal programs. 
  12. Nationwide Waiver of Onsite Monitoring Requirements for Sponsors in the Child and Adult Care Food Program – EXTENSION  FNS has provided flexibilities for specific monitoring and review requirements for sponsors participating in CACFP. 

For a summary of USDA waivers issued to date, refer to the USDA Waivers Summary in the Claims Reimbursement and Reporting System (CRRS) Download Forms. 

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The USDA approved the following Ohio Department of Education requested 2021-2022 waiver. 

  1. Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) Snacks for Children Waiver: waiver to the requirements under section 19(b) of the National School Lunch Act [42 U.S.C. 1769a] which requires schools participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to make fresh fruits and vegetables available to students. 

For a summary of Ohio requested waivers and status, refer to the USDA Waivers Summary in the CRRS Download Forms. 

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The USDA Nationwide Waiver to Allow the Seamless Summer Option enables all schools to simplify operations and receive maximum reimbursement in all locations for the entire 2021-2022 school year. To take advantage of the increased flexibility and funding, schools should operate the Seamless Summer Option as of their first day of the 2021-2022 school calendar.
Seamless Summer Option meals follow the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program meal patterns. Schools operating the Seamless Summer Option serve all meals at no charge to all students. For school year 2021-2022, all meals are reimbursed at the maximum free Summer Food Service Program rate.

(Note: After the school’s first day, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) will no longer be available for regular school operations.)

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Weekend meals are not claimable under either the Seamless Summer Option or the National School Lunch Program. These programs are authorized “when school is open,” which does not include weekends or holidays. More details on the prohibition of weekend meals are available in USDA guidance issued July 14, 2021: Previously Issued Questions and Answers Relating to Operation of the Child Nutrition Programs: Updated for School Year 2021-2022.

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Schools operating the Seamless Summer Option do not need to collect free and reduced-price applications from their enrolled students. Each student will receive a meal regardless of any prior application or eligibility status.

However, schools must make the free and reduced-price application available in the event of a new family at the school or new economic circumstances. This enables schools to carry forward complete and accurate meal program eligibility data. This may also allow new students and students in new economic circumstances to apply for Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (PEBT) benefits. Schools may also make the application available via web link or other electronic method. Any applications submitted to a school between July 1, 2021, and October 1, 2021, must be subject to the annual verification process.

Valid free and reduced-price applications from prior years (2019-2020 or 2020-2021) can carry forward until the 2022-2023 school year for 30-day carryover meal eligibility purposes. Schools would carry forward the most recent free and reduced-price applications if multiple applications are on file for a student. This includes students identified through direct certification. Questions concerning eligibility and carryover are addressed in the Eligibility Manual for School Meals.


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The USDA School Meal Programs aim to provide all participating children, regardless of background, with the nutritious meals and snacks they need to be healthy. School food authorities must provide accommodations for disabilities when supported by the proper documentation regardless of the current circumstances. Meals must be served in a manner that offers a safe environment for children with food allergies or other disabilities. Strategies for providing safe and appropriate meals may include: 

  • Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces prior to the meal service. 

For additional information, refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Accommodating Children with Disabilities in the School Meal Programs, Guidance for School Food Service Professionals.  

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School food authorities must submit a school meals program application in the CRRS. Applications must be approved before a sponsor can operate and claim meals for reimbursement. Remember that changes to the school meals application may be made if situations change throughout the year. Detailed instructions for the 2021-2022 CRRS application are available in the “Download Forms” section of CRRS.
The 2021-2022 CRRS application will include a “USDA Waivers” module, which may be updated and approved throughout the school year. School food authorities should indicate any changes in the meal service including non-congregate feeding, meal service times and meal pattern in the module for each site. School food authorities are encouraged to be as detailed as possible in the application about any modifications to the traditional meal service.  

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All school food authorities, regardless of learning method, must maintain all required documentation for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Refer to the Administrative Review Checklist in the CRRS Download Forms for a comprehensive list of required documentation.  

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Meals must meet the regular menu planning requirements of the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Weekend meals are not permitted under the National School Lunch Program, Seamless Summer Option, or School Breakfast Program. For additional information and considerations, refer to the Meal Service Considerations in the CRRS Download Forms. The following are various requirements for the meal service depending on the three learning environments as described below.  
Classroom Learning: Meal service for students in the school building full-time may occur in the cafeteria, hallway kiosks or classroom. Schools must consider current social distancing requirements and recommendations when planning their meal service. 
Blended Learning: Meal service in a blended learning environment will include aspects of classroom and remote learning meal service. Meal service for students in the school building may occur in the cafeteria, hallway kiosks or classroom. Meal service during remote learning must be non-congregate, meaning the meal is consumed offsite. Non-congregate meal service options include take home meals, home delivery, curbside pick-up, bus stop pick-up or other methods.  
Remote Learning: Meal service must be provided non-congregate, meaning the meal is consumed offsite. Non-congregate meal service options include home delivery, curbside pickup, bus stop pickup or other methods.  

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Meals must meet the menu planning requirements of National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The meal pattern for the Seamless Summer Option matches the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Senior high schools (grades 9-12) should consider the feasibility of offer versus serve. Offer versus serve is a provision in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program that allows students to decline some of the food offered. The goals of offer versus serve are to reduce food waste in the school meals programs while permitting students to decline foods they do not intend to eat. If a senior high school wishes to waive the “offer versus serve” requirement, they must indicate as such in the “USDA Waivers” module of the 2021-2022 CRRS application. Schools must continue to follow the age and grade group meal patterns. 

If schools encounter situations, including but not limited to supply chain shortages or operational disruptions, schools may request targeted and specific meal pattern adjustments. Options for targeted and specific meal pattern adjustments are listed in the Nationwide Waiver to Allow Specific School Meal Pattern Flexibility . Any specific and targeted meal pattern waivers must be indicated in the “USDA Waivers” module of the 2021-2022 CRRS application.

The use of USDA Foods is highly encouraged to help lower commercial food expenditures. USDA Foods is beneficial in lowering food costs while providing nutritious meals to students. Refer to the USDA Team Nutrition for recipe ideas and network and share recipe ideas with other schools. Meal planning differs for the learning environments and is described in further detail below.  


Classroom Learning: Schools should consider meals that may be easily consumed in other places than the cafeteria. Individually wrapped items may provide increased flexibility.


Blended Learning: Schools must consider the feasibility of developing menus that can be used for both congregate and non-congregate meal service. If infeasible, schools will need to maintain separate menus for congregate and non-congregate meal service. Individually wrapped items may provide increased flexibility.


Remote Learning: Schools must serve non-congregate meals, meaning meals are consumed offsite. If schools opt for multi-day distribution, schools should consider providing bulk meal packaging rather than individually packaged items. If the school food authority allows for pickup at a different location than the student’s assigned school, the school food authority should make every effort to make all age and grade group meals available at the location. Individually wrapped items may provide increased flexibility.

 (Note: If a school encounters a situation where it runs out of an item that prevents the achievement of a reimbursable meal, it should immediately notify the Ohio Department of Education, but then continue to serve meals. Office of Nutrition staff may approve waivers related to item shortages on an ongoing basis.) 

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Schools participating in the Seamless Summer Option may count and claim meals based on the total number of meals served. Seamless Summer Option reimbursement for the 2021-2022 school year is paid at the maximum free rate, regardless of an enrolled student’s location or prior free, reduced or paid status. Schools operating open sites may take meal counts using a check sheet or clicker, or use a point of sale system. Schools operating closed enrolled sites may check off names on student rosters, use a point of sale system, scan the student identification card or any other approved method. When choosing a point of sale approach, schools must prevent the overt identification of any children previously approved for free or reduced meals. 

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Schools operating the Seamless Summer Option do not need separate meal counting and claiming procedures for schools that also select Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2.

Schools that continue operating National School Lunch Program through CEP or Provision 2 must maintain accurate meal counts and claims. Meal counts may be taken using a check sheet or clicker if the school can confirm the enrolled student attends the school for both congregate and non-congregate meals. For meals served non-congregate, the school should verify the enrolled student by the student identification card or any other approved method.  

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The USDA Foods Program is a key component of the National School Lunch Program that helps to balance the food service budget. The USDA provides financial support for foods through a calculated Planned Assistance Level (PAL) expressed in dollars. The PAL calculation for the 2021-2022 school year will be based on 39.75 cents per meal, an increase of 2.75 cents above the rate for 2020-2021. Schools can utilize USDA Foods in their meal patterns regardless of the learning method (classroom, blended or remote) and may be used in any meal (breakfast, lunch or snack). The USDA Foods items support domestic agriculture and meet the Buy American provision. Schools may spend their planned assistance level for the 2021-2022 school year through demand order items, direct diversion or through the USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Schools order demand order items and direct diversion items through the Commodity Allocation Tracking System (CATS).  
Demand Order: Schools, through their monthly order forms, can utilize USDA Foods demand order items (formerly known as brown box). A wide variety of foods are offered, including canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, that meet the Buy American Provision and help support the American agricultural industry.  Through demand ordering, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers items to help with grab and go service style menus, such as orange juice cups and a variety of fruit cups.  
Direct Diversion: Direct diversion allows a school to send raw USDA Foods to a vendor for further processing into end products. Direct diversion allows schools to order end products that meet the meal pattern, are easy to prepare and cost less than the market price. Schools wishing to divert pounds to a vendor can contact the processor directly or contact a broker to help forecast needs. Schools wishing to divert USDA Foods to a vendor for further processing into end products must use proper procurement procedures.  
Schools participating in the USDA Foods program through the Ohio Department of Education should contact Christine Farmer or Justin Chapman with any questions or concerns.  
Schools participating in the USDA Foods program through the Southwestern Educational Purchasing Council (SWEPC) should contact their SWEPC administrator with any questions.  

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The USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program allows schools to divert PAL to purchase fresh produce from the USDA to serve in their schools. All produce is domestically grown and includes seasonal and local items. Orders are placed in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Order Receipt System (FFAVORS). To allocate funds to the Department of Defense, please complete the Department of Defense FFVP Transfer Request form and email the completed form to Christine Farmer, USDA Foods Program Specialist.     

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School food authorities are permitted to offer up to one week of meals at a time (weekdays only). Multi-day meal service beyond one school week may be discussed and approved by the school’s Education Program Specialist. Weekend meals are not permitted in the National School Lunch Program, Seamless Summer Option or School Breakfast Program. Multi-day meal service must be non-congregate, meaning the meals are consumed off-site. School food authorities participating in multi-day distribution must claim the meals served based on the day the child is intended to consume the meals. School food authorities must detail their multi-day distribution approach for each site in the “USDA Waivers” module of the 2021-2022 CRRS application as well as ensuring accuracy of meal service days on the CRRS Site Application.  

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Parents or guardians are permitted to pick up non-congregate meals without children present if the school has indicated it is utilizing the parent-pickup option in the “USDA Waivers” module of the 2021-2022 CRRS application. School food authorities should make a good faith effort to ensure food is being picked up for children when allowing meal pickup without children present. The Ohio Parent, Guardian or Agency Meal Pickup Without Children Present policy provides additional information and guidance. The USDA published a Best Practices for Parent Pick-Up of Meals and Snacks to assist schools.  
Note: Schools serving meals in the school building full-time are not permitted to allow meal pickup without children present. Only schools participating in non-congregate feeding may allow parent or guardian pickup without children present.  

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Schools considering non-congregate meal distribution via school district buses must continue to abide by rules and regulations as established in the Ohio Pupil Transportation Operation and Safety Rules. Bus drivers play an important role in safely transporting students to and from their homes. It may be difficult for a driver to distribute meals and accurately count and claim meals while ensuring safety of students.  

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National School Lunch Program, Seamless Summer Option and School Breakfast Program meals must meet the regular menu planning requirements. If the school food authority experiences a food shortage, they must notify the Ohio Department of Education, Office of Nutrition, while continuing to serve meals. Enter the information about the food shortage in the “USDA Waivers” module of the 2021-2022 CRRS application, under the “Menu Pattern” section. Office of Nutrition staff may approve waivers related to item shortages on an ongoing basis.

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Schools should consider additional resources and equipment that may be needed for alternative serving methods, whether non-congregate or meals in the classroom or any other approved method.  

  • Schools must ensure a sufficient supply of masks, gloves and cleaning supplies for the meal service  
  • Schools may need “wayfinding” disks or stickers to mark social distancing guidelines. 
  • Schools may need additional hot and cold food carts to transport meals from the preparation area to the meal distribution location whether in the school or for non-congregate meals.  

Schools may need additional meal packaging equipment and supplies such as take-home containers, paper bags and a variety of cup sizes with lids and baggies, especially if meals are served in the cafeteria and taken to the classroom or other area in the school for consumption.   

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Schools and districts should make all decisions in the best interest of the health and safety of students and the community. The USDA child nutrition programs should be offered to students attending school, whether through classroom learning, blended learning or remote learning to the maximum extent feasible.  

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The Reset and Restart Education Planning Guide for Ohio Schools and Districts is designed to help schools and their partners understand guidelines and considerations for reopening school buildings during the continued presence of COVID-19 in a way that protects the health and safety of vulnerable members of school communities.  
COVID-19 Health and Prevention Guidance for Ohio K-12 Schools provides a framework for districts and school leaders to reopen school buildings while also helping their students and staff reduce the risk of exposure and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.  
School food authorities should continue to check the CRRS Download Forms for updated resources and guides to assist schools. Resource guides are updated regularly.  
For more information and questions, email or contact an Education Program Specialist. 

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Last Modified: 9/10/2021 1:34:51 PM

Author: iwano@_84