In recognition of the need for ongoing flexibility in order to serve children safely and effectively, the USDA extended several waivers and implemented several new waivers for the 2021-2022 school year. These waivers include:
- Available for the Full School Year (to June 30, 2022)
- Allow Schools to Utilize the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through SY 2021-2022
- Allow SFSP Reimbursement Rates for SSO Meals in SY 2021-2022
- Waive Area Eligibility in the Afterschool Programs (CACFP & NSLP) and for Family Day Care Home Providers
- Provide Flexibility for School Meal Programs Administrative Reviews of SFAs Operating Only the SSO in SY 21-22
- Allow Offer Versus Serve (OVS) Flexibility for Senior High Schools in the NSLP
- Available for the Duration and to the Extent Needed (no longer than June 30, 2022)
- Allow Non-congregate Feeding in the School Meal Programs & CACFP
- Allow Meal Service Time Flexibility in the School Meal Programs & CACFP
- Allow Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children School Meal Programs & CACFP
- Meal Pattern Flexibility Available as Approved by the State Agency
- Allow Specific Meal Pattern Flexibility in the School Meals Programs & CACFP
- A broader meal pattern waiver is available for schools operating SSO through September 30, 2021
- Aside from the sodium limit waiver for the School Meals Programs, state agencies have discretion to determine the justification needed for a waiver.
- Allow Specific Meal Pattern Flexibility in the School Meals Programs & CACFP
- Available through 30 Days After the End of the Federal Public Health Emergency
- On-Site Monitoring in the School Meal Programs & CACFP
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) will no longer be an option for either schools or non-school sponsors once the 2021-2022 school year begins. However, program options remain available to reach kids with nutritious meals at no charge across the day and throughout the school year, whether they're in school full-time or continuing with virtual learning. The resource Meeting Student Needs and Your Bottom Line in SY21-22 walks through these program options for schools by day and time. It also covers possible service models and highlights two districts as they plan to serve all students during SY21-22.
For information on the waivers available for Summer 2021 and School Year 2021-2022, the Summary of Current COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Waivers includes the latest guidance.
While more students are expected to return to classrooms for in-person learning this school year, the surrounding circumstances continue to be unique. It's important to continue communicating with families about school meals—who they’re available to, how to access them, what’s on the menu and more. This School Meals Marketing Toolkit was created to help you get the word out to families about meals available for kids. It includes a variety of ready to use and customizable assets—in both English and Spanish—to help you quickly and easily communicate with families. Within it you'll find social media images, sample social media posts, postcards and more.
Asking families for their feedback about meal service can help you make informed decisions for your program and ultimately increase participation. Gathering Feedback From Families: Using a Survey to Inform Meal Service details the use of a survey to gather feedback from families. Within this resource you will find general guidance and a link to a sample survey so that you can see those recommendations in action.
In early 2021, No Kid Hungry engaged FM3—a California-based company that conducts opinion research—to complete a national series of discussion boards and surveys with parents and students in low- and middle-income households to assess their views of school meals, and to assess their reactions to key messaging designed to encourage greater participation. The goal of the research was to understand, as we begin to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, what opportunities may exist to increase parent and student engagement with school meals – both in and out of session. Recommendations for Communicating with Students & Families About School Meals highlights the key recommendations to emerge from the research.
For Educators & Administrators
The Importance of School Meals explains why school meals are so critical for students and how school meals programs operate. It also offers ideas on how to engage key staff within the schools, from teachers to custodians, in order to make new meal service models successful.
The case study, Adapting School Nutrition During COVID-19, also shares best practices from Vaughn Next Century Learning Center on how they successfully engage the broader school community in the design and implementation of their school meals program.
We’ve created a number of resources to help school nutrition staff plan for meal service operations under a variety of scenarios, which reflect the changes in place for the 2021-2022 school year aimed at keeping students and staff safe amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
For most schools, meal service looks very different now than it has in the past. Our Equipment List for Meal Service SY21-22 highlights new and existing equipment items that can be used to serve meals to students in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, or to go home throughout the existing pandemic environment. Equipment Tips for Meal Service During the 2021-2022 School Year offers guidance as schools consider how to handle meal delivery, in or to the classroom. Strategies to Increase Meal Participation during COVID-19 features a variety of ways to increase meal participation shared from FNS leaders across the nation. You will find practices to engage your school community members, increase communication practices, marketing strategies and more!
Feeding Remote Learners
Serving virtual students is an important way to ensure students are fed and stay connected to their school community. The Serving Remote Learners: Meal Service Model Guide outlines the steps school districts can take to determine the need for virtual student meal service, evaluate their capacity to provide meals, and choose a service model(s) that best fits their community needs. Tips & Considerations for Serving Remote Learners is a one-page quick guide on how to serve remote learners.
Navigating Supply Chain Disruptions
Supply chain disruptions can create challenges with procurement, menu planning, and service. Watch the Navigating Supply Chain Disruptions webinar to hear tips and advice from three school nutrition professionals managing disruptions in their schools. Also check out Tips for Navigating Supply Chain Disruptions which provides tips for managing supply chain related issues including driver, food, and equipment shortages in a quick one-page document. Communication is an important part of navigating supply chain disruptions. Check out No Kid Hungry's Materials for Communicating with Your School Community for sample language, in both English & Spanish, that you can use as is or customize to best fit the needs of your school or district. Just copy & paste!
Rural schools and community providers utilize their agrarian geographies to bring local fruits, vegetables, and even meats and eggs to their meal programs. This close connection to their local farmers and ranchers has created a system that can overcome common supply chain disruptions, invest in their local economy, and create engaging educational opportunities.Learn more about how you can connect with your local food system in No Kid Hungry's Rural Communities Leading the Way: Introducing Local Foods to Meal Service resource.
USDA has responded with various flexibilities and waivers to mitigate the impact of supply chain disruptions. The Nationwide Waiver to Allow Specific School Meal Pattern Flexibility for School Year 2021-2022 extends meal pattern flexibilities to SSO, NSLP, SBP, and CACFP for the full 2021-2022 school year. The Waiver to Allow Fiscal Action Flexibility for Meal Pattern Violations Related to COVID-19 Supply Chain Disruptions Impacting School Meals in School Year 2021-2022 waives fiscal action to certain meal pattern violations in the SSO, NSLP, and SBP for the full 2021-2022 school year. Check out our COVID-19 waiver and guidance summary for an overview of all of the nationwide waivers and guidance issued to date by the USDA in response to the coronavirus.
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a special school meal funding option of the National School Lunch Act that enables schools to provide free meals to all students. Under CEP, school meals are available to all students at no cost to them, just like textbooks and transportation. And in the era of COVID-19, CEP can help support school nutrition departments as schools work to find new ways to feed students.
CEP benefits students and schools. Kids get free meals, and when a child’s nutritional needs are met, they do better in school. CEP can reduce financial strain at home for families facing economic hardship due to COVID-19 and/or systematic inequalities. CEP promotes equity by eliminating the out-of-pocket costs for families and reducing stigma for school meals programs.
CEP is good for schools, too. It reduces administrative burden by eliminating school meals applications, counting and claiming by fee category, and unpaid meal charges. School nutrition staff are able to streamline meal service, making it easier to implement innovative service models, like meals in the classroom and hybrid schedules. These benefits taken together often result in CEP generating revenue for school nutrition budgets - CEP schools eliminate many overhead costs, eliminate school meal debt, and increase participation. Moreover, CEP is a 4-year cycle, meaning that adopting CEP this year can help a school's nutrition budget recover post-pandemic.
Learn more about CEP, including eligibility and applications, program operations, and FAQs, on our dedicated CEP page. Have questions or need extra support? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org - we are here to help.
Both school and non-school sponsors have the opportunity serve meals and snacks during School Year 2021-2022 through the CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals component. Schools can serve afterschool meals and snacks in conjunction with the Seamless Summer Option or NSLP and SBP. Additionally, schools can offer afterschool snacks through NSLP.
Thanks to USDA’s area eligibility waiver, Afterschool Meals is an option for more schools and non-school sponsors. School and non-school sponsors can also use the CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals component to serve meals on the weekends, holidays, and school breaks (see Question 8 in USDA’s Q&A).
The afterschool enrichment waiver issued in the spring of 2020 has not been extended; however, virtual and take-home activities may be options in your state. Combined with the availability of the non-congregate, meal service time, and parent or guardian meal pick-up waivers for the CACFP and NSLP, this may permit bulk meal distribution for off-site consumption. However, these waivers are only available this school year for the duration and to the extent necessary, so work with your state agency on your operational plans based on the situation in your community. If you are operating a grab & go or delivery program, meal pick-up or delivery confirmations can count as the attendance tracking requirement (see Question 41 in USDA's Q&A). Please check with your state agency on this and all alternative operations.
Also, please note that previous Q&A guidance from USDA indicates that the meal service time waiver does not allow for meal distribution during the school day if children are attending an in-person school or in-person program for virtual learners. Additionally, please work with your state agency regarding expectations for attendance records.
If you're looking for ideas on virtual activities, we have compiled suggestions and links to last several months. We also have a resource with links to printable materials that can be distributed along with meals if your sites served children who may not have reliable access to technology.
This series is focused on feeding kids during the 2021-2022 school year. Hear from NKH experts on waivers, CEP, and school funding, school district leadership, and school nutrition professionals as they explain how back-to-school meal service looks in their community.
**Please note the air date of each webinar as waiver extensions have been issued throughout this webinar series.