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About the CACFP
toddler girl eating a piece of bread

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) offers reimbursements to offset the cost of serving meals and snacks in a variety of care settings, providing crucial help to providers as well as low-income families with children.

The CACFP includes several sub-program components for different care settings: child care centers for infants, preschoolers and school-aged children; family day care homes; adult daycare centers; emergency shelters for children and teens; and afterschool programs providing enrichment activities for children and teens in low-income areas.

The child care center and family day care home components of the CACFP -- the two largest components -- play a vital role in quality child care and early childhood education. The subsidies offset the cost of nutritious meals, which helps to make child care more affordable for low-income families and frees up the provider’s resources for other services. The CACFP also contributes to the food security of the low-income families who depend on the meals their children receive while in child care to meet a substantial portion of their child’s nutritional needs.

The CACFP is administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in each state and territory by designated agency, typically the department of education or health and human services. The state agency is responsible for processing applications for new participants, training new and participating organizations, paying claims for reimbursement, and monitoring for compliance.

In order to participate in the CACFP, both child care centers and family child care homes must provide non-residential care for children and meet applicable state or local licensing or health and safety standards.

All non-profit child care centers that meet those criteria are eligible to participate. For-profit centers must receive child care subsidies for at least 25 percent of their enrolled children or licensed capacity (whichever is less), or verify that at least 25 percent of their enrolled children or licensed capacity are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Child care centers receive reimbursement payments based on the actual number of meals served, by type (breakfast, lunch/supper, or snack), and the income eligibility of the enrolled children. 

All family day care homes are eligible as long as they participate through the sponsorship of a non-profit organization that takes responsibility for training, monitoring, and processing payments. However, family day care home providers receive different rates of reimbursement based on whether or not they are located in a low-income area or serve low-income children.

In both settings, providers can receive reimbursement served to children from birth through age 12, or age 15 for the children of migrant workers. Meals served to people with disabilities may be reimbursed regardless of their age, but in order to participate in CACFP’s child care component, the majority of the provider’s enrollees must be age 18 or under.

In fiscal year 2016, over 2.5 million children benefited from the CACFP on a daily basis through participating child care centers and family child care homes.

For more information about the CACFP, you can visit the USDA’s CACFP website.

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The CACFP Nutrition Standards
girls sitting at a table drinking their milk

To qualify for reimbursement through the CACFP, all meals and snacks served must follow the age-appropriate nutrition guidelines.

The nutrition guidelines are illustrated by the meal patterns, which are the rules for the types of items and portion sizes that each meal or snack must include. Updates to the CACFP meal pattern requirements went into effect on October 1, 2017. The overall structure of the meal patterns remains the same, with a food-based rather than a nutrient-based approach to menu planning. The components of the child meal pattern remain the same as well: milk, meat or meat alternate, grain, fruit, and vegetable. However, some of the age groups and minimum portion sizes have changed, as have some of the requirements for foods within each component. These changes will ensure that children receive more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables with less added sugar and fat. For more details on the new infant and child meal patterns, visit the USDA’s CACFP Nutrition Standards website.

Research has shown that meals served to children through the CACFP are healthier than the meals served by child care providers that do not participate in the CACFP. Children have higher intakes of key nutrients and receive fewer servings of fats and sweets from CACFP meals than from meals in non-participating institutions.

To help promote healthy eating in child care settings, we have developed Cooking Matters for Child Care Professionals, which teaches child care professionals about healthy meal preparation and creating a healthy food environment for the kids in their care.  The training focuses on role-modeling healthy eating habits and attitudes; helping children cultivate self-regulation of their food intake; developmentally-appropriate furniture, eating equipment, and routines; hands-on nutrition education; and working with families.