healthy food on a toddler plate

Food Program for Daycare Providers

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The food program for daycare providers or CACFP is a federal program that provides reimbursements for nutritious meals daycare providers feed to kids. This can be an important part of running a home daycare. It can take your revenue from breaking even to profit.

child eating healthy food from the food program on their tray

And it can help you stay on track with menu planning of healthy meals for your daycare kids.

Daycare Food

Are you a daycare provider that serves meals to kids? You may be eligible to participate in the food program for daycare providers (CACFP) and receive reimbursements for serving healthy meals to kids. Home daycare, daycare centers, head start programs, and after-school programs may participate.

You can receive training on nutrition, menu planning, budgeting, food safety, and children’s nutrition activities as well as resources to use to provide healthy child care to your kids. On the food program, you are reimbursed per meal at an estimated cost for food plus your labor for preparing it. I have always enjoyed participating in my food program. Everything except the paperwork.

So who is eligible to be reimbursed for daycare food? Any home daycare that is licensed may apply to be on the daycare food program. The first step is to find a food program you want to use.

Over the years, I have been on some really great food programs with caring monitors that wanted to see my kids eat healthily and wanted me to succeed. The one I’m on now is wonderful. However, there have been other food program experiences I’ve had that were punitive, manipulative, and very stressful.

So the bottom line is, the food program you choose matters! Ask around to your fellow providers to find the right fit for you. See what they like and don’t like about their monitor.

Once you sign up and the food program says you are eligible, you will have to fill out some paperwork for yourself and get started. They will give you all the details on how they want you to do it for their program. Each one has its own procedures to meet the state guidelines.

Next, you’ll collect information on your kids. Parents will have paperwork to fill out and you’ll have to either enter it on KidKare and mail it in to your program, or you’ll have to follow another procedure they have set up for you.

Then you’ll start recording paperwork for each meal about who was there, the time they came, and what they were served. The paperwork side of home daycare can be overwhelming and the food program requires a substantial amount of extra work on the paper-pushing side. But it’s well worth it for the check you’ll get every month. For me, it’s the difference between profit and no profit.

At the end of the month, you’ll have to complete and submit all of your paperwork within the first day or two of the month. This can be done by fax, through the mail, or online, however you have it set up with your food program.

My food checks average between $450 and $600 depending on attendance. I have 7 kids enrolled, but one of them only comes part-time and others are absent on occasion. You can only claim children on your food program when they are present for a meal.

So if you cook breakfast for 7, and two of them call in that they aren’t coming at the last minute, you’re only getting paid for the 5 who were there. Yes, you prepared meals for 7, but you didn’t feed 7.

If little Johnny’s dad doesn’t want to get up and bring him until 9 and you serve breakfast at 8:45, again, you’re out the money. I have a strict policy that if they are not here by 8:30, the parents must feed them breakfast because that’s our meal time. But, there are many times I prepare a meal or buy food for a meal and it is not eaten.

I try to find ways to use the food anyway, but it’s not always possible. If I have a plate made and they call me at 8:30 when I’ve already made it to say they aren’t coming, I may not be able to salvage that food waste. But it’s part of the job.

Parents just don’t understand buying supplies and preparing meals and activities. They just understand they felt like cuddling that day. And that’s good, they should cuddle. Or they felt sleepy because they were up all night with a sick kid, so they call you at the last minute. It’s life. So I just let it go. You’ll be happier.

One thing I’ve learned in this job is if you stay upset for any amount of time about something the parents do, you’ll always be upset. So I try to see their side of the situation and then let things go as fast as I’m able.

As far as rates are concerned, they usually change yearly. For the current daycare food program rates, click on the link. But think about this if you think it might be too much trouble. If I make $500 a month for 12 months, that’s $6,000 a year. That’s a lot to give up for a little paperwork in my opinion.

child eating healthy food with a fork

Daycare Meal Plan

So now that you’ve decided to get on the food program, how do you make your daycare meal plan that meets the requirements?

Check out the CACFP food program requirements made simple here to get started. It gives foods required, portion sizes, and everything you need to plan your daycare meal plan.

Then check out food prep for daycare providers here and see how to streamline your ideas into easier bites. It has all the tricks I use after 27 years to make my days go more smoothly with cooking.

And then check out this daycare food menu meal planning guide for more ideas on how to plan out your menus well. These resources are going to be a great help to you! And if you want to buy menus already planned out, check out Daycare Time Solutions for monthly menu plans, click on shop all and menu plans for menus that meet food program requirements. Or if you want a sheet with a sample week and shopping list to get you started, check out this planning pack.

This book is your complete guide to planning your menus with all the help you need. It’s a printable ebook, so it’s easy to click and get started. Check out one of these great resources I wish I would have had when I started. You’ll be so glad you did!

Getting picky kids to eat healthy food

You might want to learn how to feed kids healthier, and want tips on how to get them to actually eat the healthy food you offer. This book is a big help!

And this post shares tips on how to hide vegetables in food that are undetectable by kids. It was a game-changer for me! I am a champ at getting picky kids to eat healthy food. They don’t all like everything, but EVERY kid likes more healthy food than they did when they came. Around my town they call me the toddler whisperer. Here are some ideas for feeding picky kids:

More about picky eating help here.

child eating healthy food at the table from a plate

Daycare Menu Plan

Once you get rolling on menu planning, check out this CACFP Food Buying Guide to help you streamline your shopping.

You’ll also find this how much should my child be eating post helpful too! And it’s a great guide to share with parents who sometimes have unrealistic ideas of how much food kids need.

And a great way to encourage kids to try more foods is to cook with them, so check out these recipes to cook with kids here.

Daycare Food Menu Examples

Here are a bunch of great food menu examples for you to read through to get inspiration too. As time goes on, you’ll need more inspiration for new ideas too:

Don’t forget there is a yogurt calculator in the meat and meal alternate article and a list by name brand of foods that meet the whole grain requirement in the whole grain article. You can print them out and take them right to the store!

I am glad you’re here because you’re going to have all the inspiration and ideas you need from now on. Get inspired, and get organized. You are going to rock this!

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