SY 20-21 USDA Free Meals Waiver


SY 20-21 USDA Free Meals Waiver 
last updated 10/23/20


 SMCSC is pleased to announce that the USDA has approved a nationwide waiver due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic that ALL students, regardless of socioeconomic status, can receive FREE meals at school.  The Indiana Department of Education has given Indiana schools the approval to start so SMCSC will be starting this program effective 9/10/20.  According to the USDA, this program is currently in effect “until December 31, 2020 or until funding runs out”. 
Update 10/23: This program has been extended "until June 30, 2021 or the end of the 2020-21 school year or until funding runs out."

Update 9/24:  Were past purchases credited to my student's account?
The meal waiver was originally back-dated to September 1.   SMCSC Nutrition Services initially refunded purchases for qualified Paid price breakfasts and lunches to student cafeteria balances. Then we were given an additional waiver to apply this back to August 6 so as of Monday, 9/21, all August qualifying purchases were also refunded to student balances.

What is considered a “free meal”?

Students can receive 1 FREE lunch AND 1 FREE breakfast per school day.  Meals must meet the existing guidelines that USDA has put forth and SMCSC has followed in order to be free.  Ala carte items will still be an additional charge.  These items include extra entrees and milk (all schools) and snacks/drinks (PHMS and PHHS).   School menus can be found on our website HERE.

How do I know if my child is purchasing a meal that qualifies as free?

At the elementary level, we have always ensured that students are choosing a complete meal that will be charged at the meal price (usually adding a fruit or vegetable to qualify).  At PHMS and PHHS, students become more independent and it is more challenging to persuade students to make those choices so we have traditionally allowed students to make their own choices.  As a result of this change and the fact that we know parents will want to ensure their student is getting the meal at no charge, we will be modifying our service to ensure that in addition to elementary students, every PHMS or PHHS student who purchases an entree will have the minimum choices necessary to be able to qualify as a free meal.   For example:  if a student at PHMS or PHHS chooses a sandwich entree or a salad entree, the plate or package will have a fruit or vegetable packaged with it and that entree + fruit/veg qualifies as a free meal.   Students are allowed to get additional fruit/vegetable servings at no charge and milk is optional.

See more details HERE about what qualifies as a meal.

Why must meals meet certain guidelines to be FREE?

The USDA wants to ensure that any meal that is funded by the government meets certain nutrition qualifications.  A school cannot be reimbursed for parts of a meal, the meal must be sold as a unit.

Will my student still use their cafeteria account?

Yes, students will still use cafeteria accounts.  Families can still deposit money into accounts for the purchase of ala carte foods.  If families would like to request a refund or transfer of funds in accounts, you can do so by completing our online form at  

What if my child is a virtual student?

We will continue to offer our weekly distribution of 5 day meal packs (5 lunches, 5 breakfasts) to virtual students on Wednesdays from 3:00-3:45pm at Pendleton Heights Middle School and this will now be  FREE for all families.  More details about this can be found on our website HERE.

What about when PHMS and PHHS are in hybrid?

We will continue to offer our weekly distribution of 3 day meal packs (3 lunches, 3 breakfasts) to PHMS and PHHS students on Wednesdays from 3:00-3:45pm at Pendleton Heights Middle School and this will now be FREE for all families.  More details about this can be found on our website HERE.

Will free meals be a cost to SMCSC?

This program is fully funded by the federal government and all costs to SMCSC are fully reimbursed through federal funding.  The federal programs that we are able to operate under due to this waiver also provide program simplification, which means that we can focus our team’s time and talents on preparing the nutritious and tasty meals our students enjoy rather than the extreme administrative burden it has been to track meals and student payments while operating multiple feeding programs due to the COVID19 pandemic.  

Are school meals and the school meal environment safe?

Details about the precautions SMCSC Nutrition Services is taking can be found in the SMCSC Re-Entry Plan document.  We have made the necessary modifications to the way our food is served to ensure that our students are safe and continue to make the school cafeteria a positive experience for our students.

Do I still need to complete a Free/Reduced application if I think I qualify?

If you were approved for Free/Reduced, that status remains in effect for the entire school year. Textbook assistance will still require a student to qualify for Free/Reduced via the meal application in order to qualify for assistance.