Child care is a place where many young children have their first experiences with new foods. Child care programs—family child care homes and child care centers—play a big role in helping children eat well, so they can learn and play.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is an important part of how many providers are able to put healthier foods on the table for young children. It provides rules and guidance that help participating child care programs create healthy meals. CACFP also provides a small reimbursement to participating programs for serving qualifying meals, putting a bit of money back into these programs.
But CACFP tools and meal patterns can be used by everyone, whether they participate in the food program or not! And CACFP sets impactful, achievable standards for good nutrition in child care.
As partners for the Voices for Healthy Kids project, Child Care Aware® of America provides technical assistance to campaigns that want to make sure child care programs meet minimum nutrition standards with the foods they serve. Some campaigns are trying to update their licensing or quality standards. Others are seeking state funds for technical assistance to help providers make their programs healthier.
Recently, our partners in Alabama saw hard work pay off! In late 2018, the child care center licensing rules (in Alabama, they’re called Minimum Standards for Day Care Centers) were revised to be the same as the CACFP requirements. That means all licensed centers must serve meals and snacks that meet the CACFP rules for serving sizes and for the foods required at each meal or snack—even if the program does not sign up to participate in CACFP. This change means that all children in licensed child care centers in Alabama will be served healthy, balanced meals. What an accomplishment!
VOICES for Alabama’s Children led the campaign, but there were many important partners. Alabama Partnership for Children, local Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, grassroots organizers, the CACFP state agency and CACFP sponsor organizations all worked together to get support for this rule change.
The partners coordinated their efforts—some worked on training and technical assistance to help child care providers serve healthier foods. Doing that work helped convince providers that they would be ready to meet the requirements of the new rule when it changed. Others focused on building important relationships with state agency leaders. Finally, bringing together all of the players at a Child Nutrition Summit helped remind the different organizations of their shared goal—to support the health and development of young children.
While the new Minimum Standards only apply to child care centers, Alabama’s family child care programs work hard to serve healthy meals to kids too. Nearly 80 percent of home-based providers participate in CACFP and follow the program requirements. There’s still plenty of work to be done to make sure all kids have access to healthy meals in child care. But thanks to the patience, perseverance and partnership of Alabama’s campaign coalition, the state has taken a big step toward healthier early care and education.