THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Office of P-20 Education Policy
There is a growing interest among school food authorities (SFAs) on the use of vending machines to provide reimbursable meals in the school meal programs. USDA has provided the following guidance for SFAs that are considering whether a meal vending machine could be successfully incorporated into their National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast Programs (SBP).
SFAs must be aware that any vending machine that provides a reimbursable school meal is subject to all program regulations and represents an extension of the school food service area. Therefore, school meal vending machines are subject to the same procedures, menu planning requirements, competitive food rules, and offer versus serve requirements that are applicable to meals offered on a service line with a cashier. Also, as a reminder, any use of Program funds for obtaining and maintaining vending machines to provide reimbursable meals must be in accordance with the procedures set forth in 7 CFR 210.21, as applicable, concerning the procurement of supplies, food, equipment and services.
It is the SFA's responsibility to ensure that a vending machine used to serve reimbursable meals is operated in compliance with program regulations. For example, the SFA must ensure that a machine can properly dispense a reimbursable meal and accurately document when a reimbursable meal has been selected by an eligible student. Moreover, SFAs will need to ensure that the use of the vending machine does not allow an eligible student to receive more than one reimbursable meal per service period (e.g., one meal through the lunch line and a second meal through the vending machine). It is critical that any identity confirmation procedure does not overtly identify a child as receiving a free or reduced price meal. Additionally, as a reminder, all reimbursable school meals, including vended meals, must be priced as a unit.
If your vending machine provides a variety of meals, remember that at all times students must be able to obtain all required items of the meal. For example, if you have 15 full lunch meals plus other meal combinations with fewer components available under offer versus serve, once the 15 full complete meals are gone, the rest of the "meals" cannot be claimed, since students could never obtain a complete meal. Consequently, be sure you are aware of this regulation and plan accordingly.
Prior to the use of vending machines to serve reimbursable meals, an SFA must notify the State agency (NYSED) of their intent to do so. At this time we still have received only one request. We must then include the vending machines in any monitoring review to ensure that these machines, and their use, are in compliance with Program regulations.
USDA recognizes that vending machines may play an expanding role in the operation of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. Personnel policies, labor costs, pressure on lunch room space, class schedules, and limited time all contribute to the need to explore more efficient and effective methods of delivering these important nutrition benefits to students. It is also critical that we ensure the proper delivery of program services to students without unnecessarily inhibiting innovation.
Please click here to access the Questions and Answers (Q&As) USDA has received and additional guidance in the use of vending machines.
Please direct all requests and related questions on vending machines used to provide reimbursable meals to Sandra Ragule at 518-474-3956 so that we are aware of emerging issues.