Fast Facts on Raising Nutrition Standards for Child Care Centers

USDA releases proposed rule for Child and Adult Care Food Program

Fast Facts on Raising Nutrition Standards for Child Care Centers

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:

1. What changes are proposed to the CACFP nutrition standards?

The USDA proposes several key adjustments, including:

  • Increasing requirements for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low- and no-fat dairy foods.
  • Requiring that safe drinking water is available throughout the day.
  • Restricting the availability of fried foods.
  • Providing reimbursement when an infant is breastfed on site by the mother, to incentivize nursing.
  • Allowing centers to make meal substitutions that accommodate special dietary or medical needs.
  • Updating the categories of age-appropriate nutrient guidelines to: 0-3 months, 4-7 months, 8-11 months, 1-2 years, 3-5 years, 6-12 years, and 13-18 years.

2. Why is it important for kids to have healthy foods at child care?

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.

3. Why is the USDA updating the standards?

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.

4. How can child care providers, parents, and advocates help shape the updated standards?

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.


  1. The Institute of Medicine published “Child and Adult Care Food Program: Aligning Dietary Guidance for All” in 2010 to inform the USDA’s proposed rule on nutrition standards.
  2. The Dietary Guidelines encourage Americans to eat a healthful diet that helps to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA have jointly published the Dietary Guidelines every five years since 1980.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau, “Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011,” accessed March 10, 2015, Children designated as receiving care each week are cared for on a regular basis, at least once a week. Of the 61 percent of children under 5 years who are in regular child care arrangements, 35 percent were cared for by organized facilities or nonrelatives, such as day care centers, nurseries/preschools, home-based care, or family day care providers.