Tempeh is newly credited in child nutrition programs

School lunches and child care lunches and suppers must include meat or meat alternates — and now tempeh is a viable option for them.
Kids eating at table smiling at camera

It’s now easier to get tempeh in school lunches! The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has issued a memo “Crediting Tempeh in the Child Nutrition Programs.”

It’s official: 1 ounce of tempeh = 1 ounce of center-of-the-plate protein. This designation effectively means that it’s much more economically feasible for schools and other programs to serve tempeh. 

What foods are credited—and how they are credited—in the Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) affects all the children (and adults!) receiving food through the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service Program. That’s a whole lot of people. The National School Lunch Program alone served 30.4 million children in 2016.

The public speaks up and FNS responds

As the memo explains, “FNS sought public input about specific foods, including tempeh, due to high interest. FNS asked whether tempeh should credit, and if so, how tempeh should credit.”

Naturally, GFI submitted a response to this request for information advocating for tempeh and other plant-based proteins to be credited. Together with allies from the Soyfoods Association of North America and a tempeh company, our policy team also met with the USDA to make our case in person.

It’s heartening to see the impact of public input!

“Based on stakeholder feedback, FNS is updating CNP food crediting guidance to explain how to credit tempeh as a meat alternate…Program operators now may credit 1 ounce of tempeh as 1 ounce equivalent of meat alternate.”

A step in the right direction

In 2016, FNS credited tofu and soy yogurt. The new addition of tempeh is another heartening sign of progress. Crediting tempeh as a meat alternate effectively makes it easier for schools, child care centers, and adult care centers across the United States to provide a diversity of nutritious, sustainable, plant-based protein options. These institutions receive federal reimbursement for the meals they serve. Previously, FNS would not provide reimbursement for tempeh because it lacked a standard of identity.

Now FNS officially recognizes that tempeh is “highly nutritious” and aligns with key dietary guidelines (regardless of whether a standard exists), and the institutions that serve it can be reimbursed. School lunches and child care lunches and suppers must include meat or meat alternates — and now tempeh is a viable option for them.

We recognize that making tempeh available as a credited center-of-the-plate protein option doesn’t automatically mean that program operators will take advantage of this new choice. However, this is an important step in the right direction for school lunch. We are excited about the precedent this sets and hopeful that it bodes well for more positive developments!


Mary allen

Mary Allen GFI ALUM

Mary Allen is a science writer, creative strategist, and GFI alum focused on the intersection of sustainability and emerging technology. Find more of her work at mary-allen.com.