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Program Options & Nationwide Waivers
Meals outside for COVID

While more students may be returning to in-person classes this school year compared to last, this school year will not mark a return to business as usual. This section breaks down the waivers, program options, and service models available for SY21-22.

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.
  • 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.

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Engaging the School Community
COVID meal distribution

The resources in this section will help you engage your school community to support the success of your school meals program.

For Families

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.

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.

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Afterschool Meals
School Breakfast
Schools as Nutrition Hubs
Meal pick-up during COVID

The Importance of School Meals

School meals are essential to student health and academic success, they support the local economy, and they are critical in the new school year as families may continue to struggle financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Alicia Escoto serves meals to students

Adapting School Nutrition During COVID-19

Vaughn Food Services continues to reach kids during COVID-19 by collaborating with families and the entire Vaughn staff, and by serving meals that kids love.

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Meal Service Operation Resources
Cafeteria Line in COVID

Meal service during the 2021-2022 school year will likely continue to look different than it has in the past. The resources in this section were designed to help school nutrition staff plan for meal service operations under a variety of scenarios.

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 Alternative Meal Service 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!

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How Community Eligibility (CEP) Can Help
Parent and student taking grab n go meal

The Community Eligibility Provision enables eligible schools to serve free meals to all students, regardless of income. While adopting CEP for SY21-22 may not seem important given the availability of waivers, acting now could mean locking in favorable data for a four-year cycle.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a special school meal reimbursement funding option of the National School Lunch Act that enables schools to provide free meals to all 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, whether due to the fallout of COVID-19 pandemic or longstanding 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.

While all schools can serve meals at no charge to all students through the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) during School Year 2021-2022, there are still benefits to electing CEP now under the USDA's extended deadline (schools have until September 30, 2021 to apply, though state deadlines may be earlier). Adopting CEP confers eligibility for Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) on all students in the school. Schools will also lock in their Identified Student Percentage (ISP) data for a four-year cycle, which will allow for meals to be served at no charge to students through SY24-25. That said, electing CEP for the coming school year will not obligate a school to continue with CEP in SY22-23, and schools can also re-establish their ISP with new data and start a new four-year cycle SY22-23.

Learn more about CEP, including eligibility and applications, program operations, and FAQs, on our dedicated CEP page. For the latest USDA guidance on CEP for SY21-22, see their Q&A released 7/22/21. Have questions or need extra support? Email us at bestpractices@strength.org - we are here to help.

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CEP
Boys eating breakfast in the classroom

Providing Universal Free School Meals

Compare three options for providing universal free school meals: the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), Provision 2, and non-pricing.

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School Nutrition Employee Smiles While Preparing Food

Strategies for Finding Success with CEP

These strategies are designed to help you maximize the benefits of CEP by improving meal participation rates, increasing your Identified Student Percentage (ISP), and generating revenue with savvy business practices.

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Afterschool Meals Resources
women packs meals into boxes

Both school and community organizations can help feed kids this school year with afterschool meals and snacks.

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 and holidays (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.  

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. 

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Afterschool Meals
Coronavirus

Virtual Enrichment Activities

This provides links to online activities that can be shared with kids in order to meet the afterschool enrichment activity requirement while providing non-congregate meals. These activites are also great alongside non-congregate summer meals!

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Print Enrichment Activity Materials

This provides links to worksheets and handouts that can be printed and distributed along with non-congregate meals in order to meet the afterschool enrichment activity requirement.

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Back-to-School Meal Service Webinar Series
meals picked up on school bus route

Watch our back-to-school webinar series

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. 

 

Register for our upcoming webinars here. 

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