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Back to School Planning

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On October 9, the USDA announced that the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) can be operated when school is in session through as late as June 30, 2021. School Food Authorities (SFAs) and nonprofit organizations now have the option to operate the SFSP during the 2020-21 school year while school instruction takes place, whether that’s remote or in-person learning. SFAs may also choose to continue to operate the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP).

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Whether you have decided to implement SFSP or NSLP/SBP this fall at your school(s), these documents provide answers to many questions that have been posed for both scenarios. 

School Year 20-21 FAQ (PDF)

Do you have a question that wasn’t covered in the FAQs? Please use this form to submit questions to the CDE School Nutrition staff.

School Food Service Waivers

The USDA extended waivers for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Waivers are in effect for all programs through June 30, 2021. Click view child nutrition waivers below for details on flexibilities specific to each waiver. 

View Child Nutrition Waivers

2020-21 School Nutrition Guidance

NSLP/SBP: School Food Authorities (SFAs) and sponsoring organizations can choose to operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs during the 2020-21 school year. If your organization will operate NSLP/SBP, please complete the following steps: 

  1. Complete the Fall 2020 Operations Survey 
  2. Submit the SNP application in the Colorado Nutrition Portal by Sept. 30. 

SFSP: The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) can be operated when school is in session through as late as June 30, 2021. School Food Authorities (SFAs) and nonprofit organizations now have the option to operate the SFSP while school instruction takes place, whether that’s remote or in-person learning.

The new SFSP program year began Oct. 1. Sponsors must complete a new SFSP application in the Colorado Nutrition Portal for operations starting Oct. 1 through the end of the school year. Use the following resources to assist with the application: ​

For questions, please contact

Be COVID-19 Safe 

Your local public health agency (LPHA) is the ultimate authority on food safety related questions. A plan for providing meals to students will be school district and, in some cases, building centric. For state-level guidance, consult Troy Huffman at 303-692-3664.

Staffing Considerations

Develop a staffing plan in case employees contract COVID-19. Back-up staffing plan considerations include identifying staff that are part of a high-risk group, providing cross-training and identifying back-ups, breaking up staff in teams to limit exposure, etc.

Staffing plan resources:

If staff contract COVID-19: 

SFAs and schools may purchase vended meals if they need to supplement meals prepared by staff or if staff are sick and cannot prepare meals. Vended meals are unitized, reimbursable meals that may be purchased with or without milk. Vended meals must be purchased from a CO Registered Meal Vendor, and SFAs/schools may use a one-year noncompetitive contract to purchase vended meals for the 2020-21 school year. SFAs/schools must contact Megan Johnson to obtain the required contract template to use for purchasing vended meals. 

NSLP/SBP: sponsors must still provide, collect, and determine eligibility using school meal applications: 

  • Use the updated Information Letter to Households (DOC) to promote the application and describe any new safety procedures for application submission. 
  • Applications must be accessible for all households (paper or online). Paper applications must always be provided upon request.

For all learning models, families will still need to apply for free or reduced-price meal benefits:

  • Provide consistent and clear communication on how families can apply for meal benefits
  • Promote online application as a component in online registration
  • Mail paper applications with pre-paid return envelopes or designate a drop-off point
  • Hold office hours for application assistance
  • Directly certify and extend eligibility to the greatest extent possible
  • Attach application and returning instruction to grab-n-go meals
  • Use marketing materials to incentivize applying

SFSP: Any child 18 years and younger may receive a free meal at approved SFSP meal sites. Sponsors have the option to determine which type of site will work best to meet the needs of their students and community. Sites may apply as closed-enrolled and provide meals only to students enrolled at the meal site. For example, a closed-enrolled site may be beneficial for schools offering in-person learning only. Sponsors may also apply for open or restricted open sites when implementing hybrid meal services, such as meals in the classroom and parent pick-up. Open, restricted open, and closed-enrolled sites do not need to meet the 50 percent eligibility requirement when need is identified.

NSLP/SBP/SFSP: Regardless of the program you choose to implement, public school districts must still report free and reduced-price eligibility totals for the annual At-Risk/Free Lunch October Count

Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) 

For more information on P-EBT and district templates and resources, visit the School Meal Eligibility webpage

School meal administrative reviews and procurement reviews will not take place in school year 2020-21. Sponsors originally scheduled for a review in school year 2020-21 will be rescheduled to fit into the approved five-year cycle. A new review schedule is forthcoming. Sponsors will receive a SFSP review in school year 2020-21 if they were new to operating the SFSP during emergency feeding or during the fall and did not receive a school meal administrative review in school year 2019-20.

Use the Procurement Back-to-School Considerations Resource (PDF), which includes school year tips and best practices, as well as important questions to consider while planning for procurement for the upcoming school year.

Visit the FSMC and Vended Meals webpage for more information about purchasing vended (unitized) meals during the 2020-21 school year. 

Reference the equipment list for school year 2020-21 from No Kid Hungry for tips on how to re-purpose equipment and highlight equipment needed for meal delivery. 

2020 meal counting and claiming timeline

NSLP/SBP: Sponsors must follow the counting and claiming procedures under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). Eligible meals for reimbursement must meet the NSLP and SBP meal pattern and be a reimbursable meal. Additionally, meals must be tracked by student and their associated free, reduced-price or paid eligibility status. All meals will be submitted for reimbursement within the Colorado Nutrition Portal.

SFSP: Under the SFSP, all reimbursable meals served are free. Sponsors must establish a point of service and record meals as they are served. Sponsors may use the SFSP Daily Meal Count Form or their electronic point of service system to record meals by meal type each serving day at each meal site. All meals will be submitted for reimbursement within the Colorado Nutrition Portal.

School Food Authorities that assumed operation of the SFSP at the start of the school year and will retroactively claim meals under the SFSP, must ensure all collected funds for student meals are refunded as soon as possible, or at a minimum by the start of School Breakfast/National School Lunch Program operations in January. Ideally, families should be given the option of a reimbursement check or a credit to their foodservice account. Be sure these refunds are recorded and accounted for as line items in budget ledgers. All refunds should be remitted from the nonprofit foodservice account (Fund 21).


Meal Service

Planning for meal service:

  • Communicate to students, parents, and school administrators about how and where meals will be distributed
  • Decide if additional equipment is needed to serve food safely or if equipment can be repurposed
  • Assess the packaging and disposable products needed for meal service
  • Reconfigure serving lines to allow for more physical distancing if meals are served in the cafeteria
  • Review staffing capacity to distribute meals and cover potentially extended mealtimes
  • Train teachers how to record reimbursable meals if serving in the classroom
  • Provide civil rights training to teachers if meals are served in the classroom
  • Coordinate with other departments, such as maintenance or transportation


Sponsors operating NSLP/SBP must provide meals that meet all NSLP and SBP meal pattern requirements. SFAs operating the SFSP have the option to follow the SFSP meal pattern or the NSLP and SBP meal patterns. All other sponsors operating SFSP must follow the SFSP meal pattern requirements.

Planning the menu:

  • Determine which menu items fit staffing capacity and planned meal service model(s)
  • Consider creating a two-week cycle menu with the top 10 entrées
  • Determine if Offer versus Serve will be used
  • Develop a plan to accommodate students with special dietary needs

Meal Pattern Exemption Waiver: 

Sponsors that have difficulty meeting NSLP/SBP or SFSP meal pattern requirements may request a waiver  by completing this meal pattern waiver form. Requests must be targeted and justified based on plans to support access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to COVID-19. View this resource (PDF) for more information on waiver approval considerations.


Resources and Tools