This page may contain affiliate links. Learn More.
Are you super overwhelmed by CACFP meal requirements for the childcare food program? If so, don’t fret, there is help for you. I have broken down the rules into easy-to-follow steps for you. You can do this, and your kids will be better for it.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you understand the main rules. See below for more detailed and complete explanation.
Editable CACFP Menus
Check out my menus with the link below. You can edit them and use them as your own. I hope that helps.
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.
- Two veggies for lunch or supper, or one fruit and one veggie.
- New infant age groups.
- Fruits and veggies allowed for infants over 6 months at snack.
- No juice for infants, no more than one serving of juice a day for 1 and up.
- At least one serving of whole grains per day.
- No grain-based desserts.
- Meat or meat alternate can be served for breakfast instead of bread 3 days a week.
- Tofu can count as meat alternate.
- Serve plain yogurt or yogurt with less than 23 grams of sugar per 6 ounces.
- Choose WIC approved, or under 6 grams of sugar per dry ounce cereals.
- No flavored milk for under 6.
- No deep fat frying on site.
CACFP Serving Sizes
Here are the new CACFP meal requirements for childcare measurements and the old ones.
CACFP meal pattern
Infant Meal Patterns
- There are new infant groups: 0-5 months and 6-11 months
- Solid food does not have to be served before age one, but it is allowed after 6 months of age.
- No juice is allowed for infants.
- Breast milk is encouraged and creditable when mother feeds on site. (Breast milk brought by mom was always creditable and still will be, but if they feed on site that is now creditable as well)
- Snack for infants 6-11 months old contains a fruit or vegetable when baby is ready for solid foods. (The servings state you can serve 0 Tablespoons. Now it is required to serve fruit or vegetable for snack for infants, but with the new rules it will be required when they are developmentally ready, so you have the option not to)
- Ready to eat cereals such as Cheerios are creditable for baby’s snack.
- Infant meat and meat alternatives include lean meats, fish, poultry, cooked dried beans or peas, cheese (no more cheese food or cheese spread), cottage cheese, yogurt and WHOLE eggs.
Vegetables and Fruits are separate components
Vegetables and fruit are divided now, so you may no longer serve two fruits for lunch or supper, it must be one of each or two veggies. A vegetable and a fruit are allowed as a snack.
Juice is limited
Juice is limited to one time daily for children 1 and up. No juice for infants.
One whole-grain food must be served per day. This can be for breakfast, lunch, supper, or snack.
This could be in pasta, bread, buns, muffins, crackers, cereals, etc.
For whole grains, the ingredients must list a whole grain (whole wheat, oats, barley, rice, corn, etc.) as the first ingredient or must be 50% whole grain and 50% enriched grain. One example of this could be if a recipe contains 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of enriched white flour.
The product could have an FDA whole-grain healthy claim on its packaging such as “diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers” Or “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease”.
You cannot use the whole grain stamp on a product, the criteria must be met as above and some stamped products do not meet it.
Providers must document their menu showing whole grains are served, such as whole wheat bread, whole grain-rich, etc.
If whole grains are not served, the meal with the lowest reimbursement rate will be disallowed and not reimbursed. All children do not have to be in attendance when the whole grain is served. The rules are once per day for the facility, not per child. If the facility has to close for extenuating circumstances and the planned whole grain meal is not served, the facility will not be penalized for the missed meal as long as it is demonstrated that the meal was planned.
If a program only serves snack, that meal must contain a whole grain food.
Some examples of whole-grain foods include:
- King Arthur Muffin Mix
- Bob’s Red Mill 10 grain hot cereal
- Bob’s Red Mill 10 grain pancake mix
- Mission 100% whole wheat flour tortillas
- Good Food Made Simple oatmeal
- Earth Grains 100% wheat berry bread
- Orowheat 100% whole wheat bread
- Roman Meal 100% whole grain bread
- Barilla 100% whole wheat pasta
- Mueller’s 100% whole grain pasta
- Nature’s Own 100% whole wheat bread
- Heartland 100% whole grain pasta
- Lender’s 100% whole wheat bagels
- Sara Lee 100% whole wheat bread
- Bulgar Wheat
- Mixed whole grain cereals
- Plain Cheerios or Multi-Grain
- Frosted Mini Wheats
- Grape Nuts
- Shredded Wheats
- Whole wheat goldfish crackers
- Wild rice, use in soups, hot dishes and in meatloaf and meatballs, serve as breakfast cereal
- Add oatmeal to meatballs and meatloaf instead of breadcrumbs (or use whole wheat breadcrumbs)
There are many more, this is just an example of some. If you have more ideas, comment below and I’ll add them! For a printable list you can take shopping with you by brand, click here.
No grain-based desserts are allowed. As well as no cookies, sweet crackers, sweet pie crusts, doughnuts, cereal bars, breakfast bars, granola bars, sweet rolls, pop tarts, cake or brownies. Providers may serve them to kids as an occasional treat, but they are not creditable on the food program.
**The original requirements stated that graham crackers and animal crackers would not be allowed for reimbursement, however, they have reversed that decision and graham crackers and animal crackers WILL be allowed.
Providers can, however, make a dessert such as a pie or turnover and count the fruit in that dessert as a creditable fruit for the CACFP.
Grain-based desserts that are homemade are also not allowed either. No homemade granola bars, cookies, nothing.
Muffins and sweet breads, however, are allowed to be served including store-bought and homemade. Pancakes and waffles, store-bought and homemade are still allowed and you can add sweet toppings such as syrup. You are encouraged to find healthier alternatives to those, but they are allowed.
Bread will be measured in ounces rather than servings for less confusion.
CACFP sugar calculator
Breakfast cereals must contain no more than 6 grams of sugar per dry ounce (21.2 grams per 100 grams of cereal) There is a formula for figuring ounces available, but any WIC approved cereals are allowed because they must follow that rule as well.
The formula is: find the serving size in grams at the top of the label and the sugars toward the middle. Divide the total sugars by the serving size in grams. If the answer is equal to or less than 0.212, the cereal is allowed.
CACFP approved cereals include:
- Best choice: Bran Flakes, Corn Crisps, Frosted Shredded Wheat, Happy O’s, Nutty Nuggets, Rice Crisps and Wheat Crisps.
- Great Value: Bran Flakes, Corn Flakes, Crunchy Oat Squares, Shredded Wheat, Toasted Corn, Toasted Rice, Toasted Wheat and Toasted Whole Grain Oats
- Plain Mini Wheats
- Plain Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios
- Complete All-Bran
- Fiber One
- Shredded Wheat
- Grape Nuts, Grape Nuts Flakes
- Alpha Bits
- Whole Grain Honey Bunches of Oats plain, almond and vanilla
- Plain Life
- Wheat Chex, Rice Chex, Corn Chex
This is not an all-inclusive list, but just an idea to get you started. If you find more that meet the requirements, comment below and I’ll add them!
You can click here for a calculator to help you figure out if your cereal will qualify.
A meat or meat alternate may be served in place of the entire bread serving at breakfast up to 3 times per week. Also, tofu can count as a meat alternate.
Yogurt calculator for childcare
Yogurt can contain no more than 23 grams of sugar per 6 oz. serving.
Any plain yogurt is creditable. Consider buying plain and adding your own sweeteners. You can use jams, jellies, honey, sugar, maple syrup, fruit, or whatever you have on hand to sweeten the yogurt and you’ll know your plain yogurt is creditable.
- 4 oz. yogurt must have less than 15 grams of sugar
- 5.3 oz. yogurt must have less than 20 grams of sugar
- 6 oz. yogurt must have less than 23 grams of sugar
- 8 oz. yogurt must have less than 30 grams of sugar
Click here to see if your yogurt qualifies.
Children age 1 still must receive whole milk. Ages 2-6 still must receive low fat or fat-free milk.
No flavored milk allowed for children under 6.
No deep fat frying food on site. Purchased fried foods may be served. Foods prepared on site can be pan-fried, sautéed and stir-fried.
- Water must be available to children.
- Food must not be used as a reward or punishment.
- Providers must encourage moms to supply breast milk.
- There are also best practices recommended which include: Serving a fruit and a vegetable for snack, providing 2 whole grains per day, serve lean meats, nuts and beans and limit processed meats to once per week, and serve only natural cheese.
The new CACFP rules are a big change for providers, but anything that is good for the health of the kids in care is a good change. Take each change and think about how simply it could be implemented and you’ll get there one step at a time.
Food Program for Daycare Provider Helps
- How to Get Kids to Actually Eat Healthy Food
- Complete Guide to Planning Daycare Menus
- CACFP Meal Planning Template with Sample Menu and Shopping List
- Premade Daycare Monthly Menus
- 5 Minute Daycare Lunches
- Toddler Meals for Picky Eaters
- Dirt cheap meals for daycare
If you have any suggestions to add, please comment below and I’ll be glad to add it!
For more tips for daycare providers, click here.
And for more inspiration for daycare meals that will save you money too, check out these dirt cheap meals for daycare.