Charging Food/Meals to Federally Sponsored
(and Federal Flow-Down) Projects:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

(Go to Overview/Purpose)

Choose an FAQ link below to jump to the respective answer or scroll through and read all of the FAQs and answers:



Q. Are there UVA documents to guide me in charging Business Meals?

A. YES - See Business Meals (Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services) and UVA Policy FIN-004. Note that UVA policies may permit spending other types of funds for business meals, but they may not be allowable on federally sponsored projects.

Back to top

Q. What is the University’s position on charging non-travel food/meal costs to federally sponsored (and federal flow-down) projects?

A. The cost of food/meals while not in travel status will normally not be allowed as a direct charge on federally sponsored (or federal flow-down) projects, as these costs are typically considered a personal expense.  It is acknowledged that in some circumstances, when the food or beverage cost meets certain criteria, a meal cost may be an allowable charge on a federally sponsored project. In addition to this guidance, always consult sponsor guidance for additional restrictions.

Back to top

Q. Are there policies/guidelines that support the institutional position on charging food/meal costs to federally sponsored (and federal flow-down) projects?

A: YES - See the following list. This is not an exhaustive list of all federal sponsors. Be sure and check your individual sponsor requirements and terms and conditions.

  • NIH – see Grants Policy Statement Part II-Section A.7.9.1 (Selected Items of Cost), Part II Section B 11.3.8.4 (Training related expenses for institutional training grants and Part II Section B.14.10.1 Allowable Costs (Support of Scientific Meetings/Conference Grants).
  • HHS Policy on the Use of Appropriated Funds for Food.
  • NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide - Part II, Award & Administration Guide
  • Part II, Section V-C-5-i. - “Entertainment - Costs of entertainment, amusement, diversion and social activities and any costs directly associated with such activities (such as tickets to shows or sporting events, meals, lodging, rentals, transportation and gratuities) are unallowable. Travel, meal and hotel expenses of grantee employees who are not on travel status are unallowable. Costs of employees on travel status are limited to those allowed under the governing cost principles for travel expenses.”

    Part II, Section V-C-5-g. “Meals and Coffee Breaks - 
    No NSF funds may be spent on meals or coffee breaks for intramural meetings of an organization or any of its components, including, but not limited to, laboratories, departments and centers.

  • Dept of Defense – (also see Federal Acquisition Regulation 31.205-14).
  • Dept of Education Memorandum to Grantees Regarding the Use of Project Funds for Conferences and Meetings
    A grantee hosting a meeting or conference may not use grant funds to pay for food for conference attendees unless doing so is necessary to accomplish legitimate meeting or conference business.  A working lunch is an example of a cost for food that might be allowable under a Federal grant if attendance at the lunch is needed to ensure the full participation by conference attendees in essential discussions and speeches concerning the purpose of the conference and to achieve the goals and objectives of the project.”

Back to top

Q. Do food/meal costs require institutional approval for each event?

A. YES- All expenditure types for food costs in non-travel status (Svcs, Catering; Supplies, Food Svc; Meals, Business; Supplies, Food and Drink) on federal and federal flow-through projects are transaction-controlled and require submission of a Federal Costing Exception Request Form for review and approval prior to direct charging. (Note that it may be possible to use a single costing exception form to justify multiple events. For information about transaction controls and the federal costing exception process, visit the Costing Guidance and Principles page).

Back to top

Q. We have a federally sponsored clinical research project that requires us to bring subjects in for screenings/testing. Can we provide them lunch or refreshments while they are here?

A. YES – with an approved Federal Costing Exception Request Form, the cost of food/meals for subject participants is allowable on a federal project, assuming all human subject compliance requirements are in place.

Back to top

Q. The PI is taking a post-doc recruitment candidate out to dinner to interview them for an open position on a federally sponsored project. Can the cost of that dinner be charged to the project?

A. YES, IN PART - The candidate’s meal under travel status could be paid by the project. The cost of the meal for the PI is not allowable on the project, but may be allowable on other funding sources. See Business Meals (Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services).

Back to top

Q. The PI on an NIH T32 Training grant wants to hold periodic meetings including trainees on the project. A guest speaker will attend every meeting to accomplish the speaking mission. Can we charge the cost of refreshments or meals for this meeting to the project?

A. YES, assuming all documentation requirements are met.

Back to top

Q. The PI on an NIH T32 Training grant took a group of UVA students to visit potential externship sites. Externships are a requirement of the training program. Can these costs be charged to the project?

A. YES, assuming all documentation requirements are met.

Back to top

Q. The PI on the same NIH T32 Training grant wants to host a dinner meeting with all of the UVA mentors to discuss the trainees and their research. Can the cost of that dinner meeting be charged to the project?

A. NO. The cost of food/meals while not in travel status will normally not be allowed as a direct charge on federally sponsored (or federal flow-down) projects, as these costs are typically considered a personal expense. In this case, the charge would not meet the criteria for direct charging, because all of the attendees are UVA employees. The charge may be allowable on other funding sources. See Business Meals (Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services).

Back to top

Q. We have a federally sponsored project that requires we coordinate and host a Conference. Can we charge the costs of providing refreshments and/or meals to the project during the conference?

A. YES – the costs of meals/refreshments during a conference/seminar/meeting with a formal agenda, attendee roster and participants from different locations are allowable.  Note: Taking out of town participants out for a meal, separate from the event, is not allowable.

  • NOTE: NIH R13 and U13 conference projects do NOT permit direct charging of food/meals.

Back to top

Q. My PI holds periodic meetings with co-investigators/lab and other personnel to discuss the progress on a federally sponsored project. Can the cost of the meal be charged to the project?

A. NO – routine meeting meal or refreshment costs are not allowable. The charge may be allowable on other funding sources. See Business Meals (Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services).

Back to top

Q. A subproject collaborator is coming to UVA to visit with the PI.  The PI wants to take the collaborator out to dinner. Can the meal be charged?

A. YES, IN PART – As a travel expense for their own meal, the cost of the collaborator’s meal could be covered. The cost of the PI’s meal cannot be charged to the federally sponsored program. It may be allowable on other funding sources. See Business Meals (Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services).

Back to top

Q. My PI is traveling to another state to visit with a subproject collaborator.  The PI wants to take the collaborator out to dinner. Can the meal be charged?

A. YES, IN PART– As a travel expense for their own meal, the cost of the PI’s meal could be covered through their travel status. The cost of the collaborator’s meal should not be charged to the federally sponsored project,  It may be allowable on other funding sources. See Business Meals (Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services).

Back to top

Q. Our PI is hosting a meeting of project co-investigators from other UVA departments at a local restaurant. Doesn’t this qualify as a business meal that can be charged to the project?

A. NO – Regardless of the location, meeting meal or refreshment costs for UVA personnel not in travel status are not allowable. These charges may be allowable on other funding sources. See Business Meals (Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services).

Back to top

Q. We have a federal project that requires that we hold quarterly advisory committee meetings with various collaborators from all over the country. Can the cost of food/meals be charged to the project?

A. YES – Assuming all documentation requirements are met, the cost of meals/refreshments during a Conference/Seminar/Meeting with a formal agenda and participants from different locations is allowable.  Note: Taking out of town participants out for a meal, separate from the event, is not allowable.

Back to top

Q. My federal project requires that we hold focus groups with various local agencies to obtain information for the study. Can the cost of meals/refreshments for the participants be charged to the project?

A. YES – Assuming all documentation requirements are met, the costs of meals/refreshments during a conference/seminar/meeting with a formal agenda, attendee roster and participants from different locations are allowable.  Note: Taking out of town participants out for a meal, separate from the event, is not allowable.

Back to top

Q. If I can’t charge my federal project for meals in non-travel status, can I just charge them to my non-federal sponsored projects?

A. POSSIBLY - as with all charges to non-federally sponsored funds, you should follow all sponsor guidelines and terms and conditions with regard to allowable costs. Cost allocation or benefit to the non-federally sponsored funds would still need to be a consideration.

Back to top

Q. We are planning a reception as an informal opportunity for participants to meet and network, in addition to our working meals during our conference/event. Is this an allowable meal cost that can be charged to the project?

A. NO - Receptions fall under the category of hospitality and would not be appropriate for direct charging on federal awards, even if other meal costs during the event have been deemed appropriate.

Back to top