In order to promote participation in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs where students receive meals that comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued regulations defining foods restricted from being served in competition with its programs. Termed the Competitive Food Services Regulation (7 CFR § 210.11 and § 220.12), this ruling includes Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value and Competitive Foods. The following document defines and distinguishes between these terms and summarizes the regulations concerning what can and cannot be sold alongside School Nutrition Programs.
Q: What are Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value?
A: Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value are foods that provide less than five percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Intakes (RDIs) for each of eight specified nutrients per serving and/or per 100 calories. The specified nutrients include protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, calcium and iron.
Q: Have specific categories of foods been developed to assist school food authorities in identifying Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value?
A: Yes, the foods which are restricted from sale to students are classified into four categories: soda water, water ices, chewing gum and certain candies. The categories are defined as the following in 7 CFR § 210, Appendix B:
Q: What are the regulations concerning these foods?
A: Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value must not be sold to students in food service areas during the lunch and breakfast periods. 7 CFR Parts § 210.11, and § 220.12, along with Appendix B to parts 210 and 220, requires that “State agencies and school food authorities prohibit the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value in food service areas during meal periods.” The term “food service areas” is anywhere school meals are being served or consumed, including classrooms and multipurpose rooms that double as cafeterias during meal periods. USDA provides authority to Food and Nutrition Service to take fiscal action for meals served by a school on any day that a violation of the regulations is observed or if corrective action plans are not followed.
Q: Can Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value be served to students if the foods are provided at no charge?
A: No, all meals served under the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs must be sold as a unit. In effect, the Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value would be considered “sold” as part of the unitized meal.
Q: Can other dessert or snack items that do not fall into one of the four categories be served alongside School Nutrition Programs?
A: Yes, all foods not listed or related to foods found in the four restricted categories may, at the discretion of the school food authority, be sold in the food service area during meal periods. For example, foods such as ice cream, ice milk, “chips” and flavored candies which may contain any of the following: nuts, peanut butter, caramel, coconut, nougat centers, milk-based fillings or other similar ingredients are not restricted. Also, water ices or soda waters which include fruit or fruit juice and certain beverages which do not contain soda water (carbonated) are not restricted.
Q: With the marketplace changing frequently and new products coming out regularly, how can a school food authority determine whether a food is exempt from the Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value category?
A: USDA regularly publishes a list of exemptions to the Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value categories. This means that these products can be sold, at the school food authorities’ discretion, during the meal period in a school food service area. It does not mean that these products are endorsed or approved by Food and Nutrition Service or indicate that they have significant nutritional value. This exemption list should not be viewed as an encouragement to purchase these products. School food authorities should carefully match the product description and ingredient list to any products in question to ensure that the products match and are indeed exempt. Updates published by USDA are posted to the Food and Nutrition Service Website under the Meal Patterns and Menu Planning section of School Nutrition Programs.
Q: Are there any regulations for school food authorities serving Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value outside of the meal service area or meal service times?
A: Yes, regulations require that charges to the nonprofit school food service account be both necessary and reasonable. The nonprofit school food service account funds may be used to purchase Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value, which are made available outside the food service areas and/or in the food service areas outside of meal periods. However, under no circumstances may nonprofit school food service account funds be used to support or subsidize the purchase of Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value. That is, the income from Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value sold must be equal to or greater than the purchase price plus other expenses associated with purchasing and selling or giving away such foods. Records documenting the recovery of these costs must be documented and available for review.
Q: What are competitive foods?
A: Competitive foods are those food items that are sold in competition with the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs to children in food service areas during meal periods.
Q: What foods are considered competitive?
A: Competitive foods include food items offered for sale in the serving line, a la carte, vending machines or other areas in the cafeteria. Such items may include snack products, candy, dessert items, ice cream products and beverages. These foods do not include Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value, which are excluded from sale in the food service area during meal times.
Q: Are there any regulations for school food authorities serving competitive foods?
A: Yes, the sale of competitive foods may be allowed only if all income from the sale of such foods accrues to the benefit of the nonprofit school food service or the school or student organizations approved by the school. Reimbursement for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs comprise a major component of the school food authorities’ nonprofit school food service account. If the school food authority uses its nonprofit school food service account to procure competitive foods or a la carte food items or to purchase, rent or service vending machines, then it is using federal funds for this purpose and must follow the applicable federal procurement rules. Federal procurement rules do not apply to any procurements that do not involve federal funds. School food authorities may, therefore, want to separately account for non-federal funds that are used in procurements of competitive foods.
Q: How should pricing be determined for competitive foods?
A: Federal funds received for child nutrition programs must in no way subsidize the costs of competitive foods. That is, pricing of competitive foods should be set high enough to cover the food, delivery, administrative and labor costs associated with those foods. Food and Nutrition Service suggests that competitive foods be priced at least two and one-half to three times the raw food cost to recover the actual cost of purchasing, preparing and selling the food.