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Office of P-20 Education Policy
Child Nutrition Program Administration
89 Washington Avenue, Room 375 EBA, Albany, NY 12234
Phone: (518) 473-8781 Fax: (518) 473-0018

School Food Service Directors/Managers
Frances N. O'Donnell, Coordinator
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Using Vending Machines to Provide Reimbursable Meals in the School Meal Programs

    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.

USDA Nondiscrimination Statement

In accordance with federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, this institution is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity.

Program information may be made available in languages other than English. Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication to obtain program information (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language), should contact the responsible state or local agency that administers the program or USDA’s TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TTY) or contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.

To file a program discrimination complaint, a Complainant should complete a Form AD-3027, USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form which can be obtained online at:, from any USDA office, by calling (866) 632-9992, or by writing a letter addressed to USDA. The letter must contain the complainant’s name, address, telephone number, and a written description of the alleged discriminatory action in sufficient detail to inform the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (ASCR) about the nature and date of an alleged civil rights violation. The completed AD-3027 form or letter must be submitted to USDA by:

  1. mail:
    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
    1400 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, D.C. 20250-9410; or
  2. fax:
    (833) 256-1665 or (202) 690-7442; or
  3. email:

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Click here for Nondiscrimination Statement translations.