The U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 2015 proposed changes to nutrition standards for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which funds the meals and snacks served to more than 3 million kids a day in settings such as child care centers, after-school programs, and even home-based day care. The updated guidelines would align CACFP’s nutrient requirements with Institute of Medicine recommendations1 and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.2
The updated standards aim to better meet children’s nutritional needs without increasing costs for participating care providers. Here are answers to four commonly asked questions:
The USDA proposes several key adjustments, including:
Millions of American children, particularly younger ones, spend time in child care settings each week3: Over 12 million children under the age of 5 (61 percent) regularly receive care outside their homes. The preschool years are a critical time when children establish dietary habits that can have long-term effects on appetite, obesity, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Research shows that, on average, infants and toddlers do not consume the recommended amounts of foods most important to their nutrition and development, such as fruits and vegetables. Ensuring that nutritious foods and beverages are served in child care settings is an important step in improving the health of young children nationwide.
Congress directed the USDA to revise the guidelines in the same legislation that improved nutrition standards for school meals and snacks. The CACFP meal standards have not undergone a major update since the program’s inception in 1968. Given the strong evidence that the early learning period is critical to long-term health and academic success, CACFP’s standards should reflect our understanding of children’s nutrition and dietary needs.
The USDA is accepting feedback from the public on the proposed standards—specifically seeking comments on the feasibility, practicality, and challenges associated with implementing them—during a 90-day comment period that ends April 15, 2015. The proposed rule, and information for submitting formal comments, can be found on the Federal Register website.