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The CACFP is an Indicator of Quality Child Care: Does Your Center Participate?

Every day, thousands of people are making sure preschool children in America are getting access to healthy foods on a regular basis. Yet many have never heard of it! That’s the mission of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) – to raise awareness and to learn and acknowledge the ways that everyone benefits from the hard work and dedication of CACFP professionals and the program itself.

Research shows that well-nourished children are healthier, more attentive, and have better mental performance than children who are under-nourished. Findings also indicate that children served by the CACFP eat healthier food than children who bring food from home. The CACFP helps child care facilities implement best practices to ensure children have access to a variety of nutritious foods for healthy growth and to reduce obesity risk.

What is the CACFP?CACFP Meals

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is a federally funded program that provides meal reimbursements to eligible child care centers for serving nutritious meals and snacks as a part of their program. Participating centers agree to serve meals as outlined in the CACFP meal pattern guidelines and to serve creditable foods. These facilities may provide breakfast, lunch, supper, and snacks (morning, afternoon, and evening). The program also provides training and technical assistance on nutrition and nutrition education. Click here to learn more about the CACFP.

Child care facilities on this program:

  • Care about good nutrition for children
  • Plan nutritious meals and snacks
  • Help children learn and feel positive about food and eating
Who Can Participate in CACFP?

The largest group served by CACFP (93%) are children enrolled in child care. With 64.2% of mothers with children younger than 6 in the work force, childcare has become a “home away from home” for more than three-quarters of American children aged 3 to 5. Today, many children spend 28 to 40 hours per week in childcare, where they consume one-third to two-thirds of their daily calories and nutrition. For these children, preschool meals may be the greater part of their weekday nourishment.

Since the CACFP targets the youngest children, it is important as a preventive health strategy. Children who begin to learn about good nutrition early in life will be able to carry that knowledge with them as they mature.

The CACFP nutrition standards for meals and snacks served in the CACFP are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Under these standards, meals and snacks served include a greater variety of vegetables and fruit, more whole grains, and less added sugar and saturated fat. USDA provides meal pattern nutrition standards for meals and snacks.

Why are nutritious meals and snacks important for children?

Fighting Childhood Hunger

Hunger experienced in childhood can have a lasting impact on health and wellness. Increased vulnerability to health, learning, and social problems are consequences of food insecurity. With over 1 in 5 children in the United States living in a food insecure household, CACFP targets providers in low income areas to provide support where it is needed most.

Increases Access to Lower Income Families

Cash reimbursement and access to USDA foods will help reduce food costs for organizations. The program also plays an important role in improving the quality and sustainability of child care programs and making them more affordable for low-income parents.

Benefits of the CACFP

At the outset, in 1969, CACFP served meals and snacks to 23,000 children each day. In 2017, the CACFP provided approximately 2 billion meals and snacks to 4.4 million children and 131,000 adults each day. Over the last 20 years, the number of child care centers participating in CACFP has more than doubled, going from over 34,000 in 1997 to nearly 64,000 in 2017.

The primary goal of the CACFP is to serve nutritious meals to children attending child care homes and centers.

Secondary goals are: the establishment of lifelong positive eating habits; reduction of future health care and education costs due to lack of proper early development; and training and support of local child care staff. Research also indicates that the CACFP is one important factor in providing quality child care.

The CACFP is a partnership between parents, children, and providers in emphasizing the important role that the CACFP plays in promoting lifelong healthy eating habits in children. It also emphasizes the importance of the CACFP to promote physical activity in child care centers. The CACFP has been cited both in academic studies and in government reports for the contributions it makes to the well-being of children being cared for in our child care system.


Children that are cared for by providers participating in the CACFP benefit by being fed nutritious USDA regulated meals that ensure their proper development. These children gain from early nutrition education that helps them establish positive eating habits that will enrich the quality of their diet throughout their life.


Parents are assured that their children receive high quality, well-balanced meals. With proper nutrition, children are less likely to experience illness and fatigue and will develop at a normal physical and intellectual pace. Good nutrition is the recipe for an all-around happier child.

Today’s parents have a choice in who they choose for child care. Many parents will go to other parents for recommendations. Make sure all your parents know what the program is, why you participate, and how the CACFP is an indicator of quality child care. Ask them to share with friends and family.


Providers receive nutrition education that helps them plan and serve nutritious meals and create a positive eating environment for children. The quality of child care provided in communities is improved due to educational and financial resources available to caregivers through the CACFP.

Subsidizing meals defrays overall child care costs for parents and contributes to children’s ability to thrive and learn. Beyond this, CACFP also has a track record of supporting healthy and safe child care environments.

How ChildWatch® Supports the CACFP

ChildWatch® provides full implementation of the CACFP, from classifying income applications, planning and scheduling menus that meet the new meal pattern requirements, the capability to capture meal counts electronically, and to consolidate the information for your claim to submit to the state agency.

To learn more about how ChildWatch® can help you manage the requirements of the food program, check us out at