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Best Practices to Improve Nutrition

Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN)

March 6, 2024

Best Practices to Improve Nutrition_4x3

March is a month to celebrate nutrition and wellness. It is also a time to educate and bring awareness to the CACFP. This Mealtime Memo from our partners at the Institute of Child Nutrition provides the USDA optional best practices you can use to strengthen the nutritional quality of meals served.

Support Breastfeeding

  • Encourage breastfeeding mothers to supply breastmilk for their infants while in your care.
  • Offer a quiet, private area that is comfortable and sanitary for mothers who come to your program to breastfeed.

The USDA Breastfed Babies Welcome Here! resource contains communication tools you can use to let families know that breastfed babies and breastfeeding are welcome at your child care site. It includes a mother’s guide, a poster, and a message graphic.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Make at least one of the two required snack components a vegetable or a fruit.
  • Serve a variety of vegetables and fruits, as each type provides a different array of nutrients.
  • Provide at least one serving of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas (legumes), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables weekly.
  • Choose whole vegetables and fruits (fresh, canned, frozen, or dried) instead of juice. Juice lacks the fiber found in whole or cut-up vegetables and fruits.


  • Provide at least two servings of whole grain-rich grains per day. This is one more serving than is required in the CACFP meal pattern.
    • Whole grains offer a variety of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc, B vitamins, and dietary fiber.
    • Whole-grain foods help lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. The high fiber content also helps to create a feeling of fullness that can help manage weight.

Meat and Meat Alternates

  • Serve only lean meats, nuts, and legumes.
    • They are good sources of protein, B vitamins, and minerals such as iron, zinc, and magnesium. These nutrients support growing muscles, strengthen the immune system, and are necessary for growth and development in children.
    • Lean cuts of meat have less saturated fat than higher fat meat.
  • Limit serving processed meats to no more than one serving per week.
    • Processed meats may contain ingredients other than meat and are typically high in saturated fat and sodium (salt).
    • Examples: bologna, luncheon meats, pepperoni, bacon, and smoked turkey products


  • Serve only unflavored milk to all participants. Serving flavored milk is only an option for children ages six years and older.
    • If flavored milk is served to children six years and older, select flavored milk containing no more than 22 grams of sugar per 8 fluid ounces.
  • Flavored milk contains added sugars, and it is recommended that all Americans reduce their consumption of added sugars.

Additional Best Practices

  • Limit serving purchased pre-fried foods to no more than one serving per week.
    • Examples: fish sticks, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, fried potatoes
  • Avoid serving non-creditable foods that are sources of added sugars, such as:
    • Sweet toppings (e.g., honey, jam, or syrup)
    • Mix-in ingredients sold with yogurt (e.g., honey, candy, or cookie pieces)
    • Sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., fruit drinks or sodas)
  • Incorporate seasonal and locally produced foods into meals.


For more tips and resources, read ICN’s March Mealtime Memo.