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What’s the CACFP? An Introduction & Resources

August 23, 2022

A mean stands in front of a blue background with the words CACFP, whole-grain rich, creditable, ounce equivalent and meal component written on the background

The CACFP is a cornerstone to operations at many child care centers, adult day cares and day care homes. However, many people have never even heard of this crucial program! This blog is for those people. Send this quick guide to parents of children under your care, new employees who are onboarding at your center that operates the CACFP, and other stakeholders to your program.

Introduction: what’s the CACFP?

The CACFP combats hunger and brings healthy foods to tables across the country for children in child care centers, homes, emergency shelters, and afterschool programs as well as adults in day care through this USDA federal reimbursement program. In general, centers and day care homes may be approved to claim reimbursement for serving up to two meals and one snack, or two snacks and one meal per day to each participant.

A day in the CACFP

Each meal in the CACFP has several required components. This A Day in CACFP En/Sp printable resource is a helpful visual guide that illustrates the meal requirements for 3-to-5-year-olds. For example, breakfast must contain ¾ cup of milk, ½ cup of fruit or vegetable (or a combination of both), and ½ oz equivalent of grains; however, a meat/meat alternate can be served in place of grains a maximum of three times per week. Download the resource to get a full snapshot of meal requirements for 3 to 5year-olds in a day of CACFP creditable meals.

CACFP best practices

Using the expertise of a panel of nutrition experts, the USDA outlined best practices for the operation of the Child and Adult Care Food Program. You can download a printable graphic of the CACFP Best Practices to share here. Best practices include:

Infants: Support mothers who choose to breastfeed their infants by encouraging mothers to supply breastmilk for their infants while in day care and offer a quiet, private area that is comfortable and sanitary for mothers who come to the center or day care home to breastfeed.


  • Make at least 1 of the 2 required components of a snack a fruit (or a vegetable).
  • Serve a variety of fruits and choose whole fruits (fresh, canned, dried, or frozen) more often than juice.


  • Make at least 1 of the 2 required components of a snack a vegetable (or a fruit).
  • Provide at least one serving each of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas (legumes), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables once per week.


  • Serve only unflavored milk to all participants. If flavored milk is served to children 6 years old and older, or adults, use the Nutrition Facts Label to select and serve flavored milk that contains no more than 22 grams of sugar per 8 fluid ounces, or the flavored milk with the lowest amount of sugar if flavored milk within this sugar limit is not available.
  • Serve water as a beverage when serving yogurt in place of milk for adults.

Meat/Meat Alternates:

  • Serve only lean meats, nuts, and legumes.
  • Limit serving processed meats to no more than one serving per week.
  • Serve only natural cheeses and choose low-fat or reduced-fat cheeses.

Grains: Provide at least two servings of whole grain-rich grains per day.

Additional Best Practices:

  • Incorporate seasonal and locally produced foods into meals.
  • Limit serving purchased pre-fried foods to no more than one serving per week.
  • Avoid serving non-creditable foods that are sources of added sugars, such as sweet toppings (e.g., honey, jam, syrup), mix-in ingredients sold with yogurt (e.g., honey, candy, or cookie pieces) sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., fruit drinks or sodas).
  • Adult day care centers should offer and make water available to adults upon their request, throughout the day.

More on meal requirements and sample meals

What kinds of meals would you expect to be served at a site participating in the CACFP? Great question! The required meal components create unlimited opportunity for variety and flexibility within a nutritious framework. Providers across the country serve meals that run the gamut from holiday spreads to picnic baskets, regional United States fare to culturally responsive dishes from around the world. Check out our sample menus to get an idea of what’s possible.

This Sample Meals: Serve Tasty and Healthy Foods in the CACFP resource is a series of infographics that provides sample meals alongside the required meal components for each age group. For example, one to two-year-old children only need ½ cup of milk, 1 ounce equivalent of meat/meat alternates, 1/8 cup of fruits, 1/8 cup of vegetables, and ½ ounce equivalent of grains at lunch or supper. Senior adults would require one cup of milk, 2 ounce equivalent of meat/meat alternates, ½ cup of vegetables, ½ cup of fruits and 2 ounce equivalent of grains. Download the resource to get a visual of what each of these might look like in execution on a plate.


This is not a comprehensive guide to the CACFP, only a snapshot of day-to-day operations for beginners. In fact, here on the National CACFP Sponsors Association website, we have hundreds of resources, amounting to thousands of pages, just dedicated to the operation of the CACFP. Check out our Learning Center for in-depth training on specific topics, or email to help you find more resources on our website.