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CN labels for daycare, what are they, how do you find them, and who needs them? If you are on a daycare food program, you need to find out.
Running a home daycare has a lot of ins and outs and one of them is learning how to navigate the food program. The food program can be a huge blessing to a daycare provider, but it does have rules to follow as well.
Child Nutrition Labels for the food program made easy
Today, food program expert Londa from The Kid Menus is back again to untangle the mess of how to figure out Child Nutrition labels for daycare. So let’s get to it.
CN labels for daycare are a pain, but you can boil it down to a few simple things.
Sometimes as a home daycare provider, you just want the ease of pulling out a frozen pizza. But the truth is, you can’t because most pre-made food items have to have a CN label to be creditable in the CACFP and those are a pain to get your hands on!
It’s not hard to get a CN label (or even understand them)! We’ve walked lots of home daycare providers through the process of understanding and obtaining CN labels, so let’s dive in.
What is a CN Label?
A CN (Child Nutrition) label is for clearly identifying how a product contributes to the CACFP meal pattern requirements. Without the information on the CN label, a provider has no way of knowing how much meat/meat alternate is truly provided by a serving of chicken nuggets or canned ravioli.
What foods have CN labels?
CN Labels are only issued for processed entree dishes that contribute to the meat/meat alternates component. So if you make your food homemade, you don’t need one. But if you use processed food, you do.
CN Labels for daycare are a pain to find because they’re created for big institutions (as is much of the food industry) like schools, which get their food from a supplier. Not home daycare providers who get their food from a grocery store.
So that means manufacturers who primarily serve schools, centers, care facilities, etc. are much more likely to participate in the USDA CN Labeling Program, but this makes it extremely difficult to find products at your local grocery store that have CN labels.
There are two ways to get a CN label – find it on the product package or check the government-generated sheet.
If a grocery store product does have a CN label on it, it must be on the product’s packaging, usually near the nutrition label.
Let’s remember here that the CN Labeling Program is optional for manufacturers – they aren’t required to participate. That being said, do you remember how we talked about products being geared toward big institutions that use suppliers instead of grocery stores? That means lots of products do have CN labels (for institutions), they just aren’t labeled on the grocery store package.
How does one go about getting one for a specific food item, then? All the products that have CN labels are listed on an enormous PDF called the USDA CN Label Verification Report. It’s 300+ pages and very cumbersome, but if you do weed through it, the information provided here serves as your CN label.
We know you don’t have all the time in the world, so we have compiled five CN labels for you to download here as a jumping-off point. In fact, we’re working towards creating a searchable CN Label Database for Home Daycares that’s super quick and easy and doesn’t require thumbing through a 300-page document. If you’d like to get on the waitlist, click here:
Cheat Sheet Download: Product Formulation Statements for 5 Popular Products (including Pizza!)
Don’t forget to note on your menu when you use an item you have a CN label for and keep that CN label info on file – home sponsors are required to look at them during their visits.
What if I can’t find a CN Label for my product?
Another documentation option for home childcare providers is a Product Formulation Statement. A PFS is a signed, certified document that allows manufacturers to list how a product contributes to meal pattern requirements.
However, A PFS only states how much meat/meat alternate the product contains, it does not do the math and tell you how much of the product is needed to make a serving for different age groups like the CN label does. A provider must take the information provided on the PFS and do the math themselves to calculate a creditable serving size.
We know, it’s not a much easier option, unfortunately.
To get a PFS, look for a telephone number or email address on the product in question’s packaging, contact the product manufacturers, and request an official PFS to be sent to you.
Is there a workaround for CN Labels?
Professional Work Arounds are sometimes necessary for the home provider. This may be one of those times. Rather than trying to track down a CN label for daycare, a better practice might be serving the minimum required amount of a different, more creditable protein (like eggs, cheese, yogurt, or peanut butter) and using the less creditable processed protein as an extra component.
For example, serve a boiled egg or 1-2 ounces of real cheese along with 2-3 chicken nuggets. If a creditable portion of the egg or cheese is served to each child, “extra” foods which are not claimed may not even need to be listed on the menu forms.
We recommend this practice for a couple of reasons. First, as long as the provider serves an adequate portion of the protein that is fully creditable, it should remove the cumbersome requirement to obtain a CN label or PFS.
Second, the kids in your care can learn a valuable lesson that processed foods are okay occasionally, but there are many other tasty foods that provide a more balanced diet and have more of the critical nutrients that they need to learn and grow.
Finally, the overall nutritional quality of the menu is greatly improved by minimizing or eliminating commercially processed foods.
Here are some ideas of some homemade protein options you can make yourself:
- Frozen Meatball Recipe for Bulk Cooking
- Ham and Cheese Hot Pocket Recipe for Kids
- Easy Sausage Ball Recipe (with real food)
- Sausage and Potato Empanadas Recipe for Kids
- Tuna Bake for Kids
CN Labels for Pizza
We get a lot of questions about pizza, and with good reason. Kids love the stuff! Here is a pizza we found online that is available with a CN Label for daycare, but as we said before, they are for schools so they come in bulk:
And then, remember Schwan’s has some CN label foods available such as these Tony’s pizzas so check those out.
For me, it seems fairly simple to just make your own pizza stuff so you don’t need a CN label. Here are some easy ways to serve pizza flavors:
Now, let’s get back to thinking about Londa’s great information.
We get it – sometimes pre-made meals are a huge help. So remember, here are your options to get a CN label:
- Look at the package or the USDA report
- Ask the manufacturer for the Product Formulation Statement
- Serve the food as an extra (so documentation is not required)
- Download the freebie or get on the waitlist for the searchable CN Label Database for Home Daycares
For more food program helps, check these out:
- USDA food buying guide
- CACFP Food Buying Guide
- Saving Time on Food Prep for Your Child Care Food Program
- Dirt Cheap Meals for Daycare
- CACFP Breakfast Ideas for Childcare
- CACFP Lunch Ideas for Childcare
- Daycare Snack Ideas – CACFP Approved!
- Daycare Food Menu Meal Planning Guide
For more help in planning a daycare menu, check out these helpful products on etsy.
And if you want a simple menu planned for you and plopped in your lap to save you tons of time and frustration, check out Londa’s great menu subscription plan here. You can try a sample for free and she has plans as low as $7 a month! And don’t forget she’s an expert who has a lot of experience working for the food program, so these menus will fit what you need.