Skip to Content

Q&A: Exploring Updates to the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program


At the end of April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a final rule updating The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).  CACFP provides meals and snacks to over 4 million children and nearly 120,000 adults in day care settings.  Day care providers that participate in the program must meet the CACFP requirements in order to receive financial reimbursement. 

The American Heart Association’s Senior Regulatory Affairs Advisor, Susan Bishop, gives us the inside scoop on the new rule: 

1)      In a nut shell, what does this new rule achieve?  Who does it impact?  

SB: The rule updates the standards that day care providers must meet when serving meals and snacks to young children and others.  The new standards are based on the latest nutrition guidance and are designed to increase the amount of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables served, while reducing the amount of added sugars and solid fats.   These are the first major changes to the program since it was created in 1968.

The new changes apply to child care centers, home-based day cares, afterschool care programs, emergency shelters, and adult day care centers that participate in the CACFP.  It will also impact schools that serve infants and young children, ages 4 and under, who participate in School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program.

2)      We know there have been significant changes to the nutrition standards for school meals and competitive foods over the last several years.  Can you share how this new rule fits into the larger picture of helping all children access healthier foods?  

SB: The CACFP, school meals, and competitive foods rules all share an important goal: to improve the nutritional quality of the foods and beverages children eat at day care or in school.  Getting kids to eat healthy from a young age is extremely important because we know that eating habits and taste preferences are formed at a young age.  Healthy eating is also key to maintaining a healthy weight. 

Because this new rule focuses on day care facilities, it will help children create healthy eating habits at an early age, even before they start school.  For older children who attend day care before or after school, it will help reinforce the health eating behaviors they’re learning during the school day.   

 3)      From the American Heart Association’s perspective, what are the most significant improvements made by this rule?

SB: The change to the fruit and vegetable requirement is one of the most significant.  Under the new rule, CACFP providers must serve both a fruit and vegetable at meals or two different vegetables; before the rule changed, providers only had to serve 1 fruit or vegetable in order to meet the requirement.  This change was intended to increase the variety of fruits and vegetables served and to ensure that vegetables are served with every meal; increasing vegetable consumption is very important since less than 5% of children eat the recommended amount of vegetables each day. 

Another dramatic change is the new limit on sugar.  To decrease the amount of sugar served, the new rule limits fruit and vegetable juices to no more than one serving per day (juice is completely banned for infants); limits the amount of sugar in yogurt and breakfast cereals; and requires that young children (through age 5) receive unflavored milk.

 4)      Are there gaps in this new rule that still need to be addressed?  What next steps does the USDA need to take?

SB: We think the rule is a significant step forward; it will improve the quality of foods served.  But the rule could be strengthened and improved even further.  For example, the rule contains a number of best practices or recommendations that day care providers are encouraged, but not required to follow.  We’d like to see some of these best practices changed to requirements, such as:

  • Providing at least one serving each of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, and legumes per week;
  • Providing at least two servings of whole grain-rich foods per day;
  • Limiting the amount of sugar allowed in flavored milk (flavored milk can be served to children 6 and older);
  • Limiting the amount of fried-food that can be served per week

 5)      When do these new standards take effect?

 SB: The rule takes effect on June 24th, but CACFP providers have until October 1, 2017 to meet the majority of the new standards.