On March 17-23, we will celebrate National CACFP Week!
Why? Child care is a place where many young children have their first experiences with new foods. Child care programs—family child care homes and child care centers—play a big role in helping children eat well, so they can learn and play.The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is an important part of how many providers are able to put healthier foods on the table for young children. It provides rules and guidance that help participating programs create healthy meals.
But CACFP tools and meal patterns can be used by everyone, whether they participate in the food program or not! CACFP also provides a small reimbursement to participating programs for serving qualifying meals, putting a bit of money back into these programs.
What is National CACFP Week?
National CACFP Week is a campaign designed to raise awareness of how the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program combats hunger. The campaign offers challenges throughout the week for child care providers to complete. If you complete the challenge you can be entered to win a $100 gift card. The campaign also has ways to advocate for CACFP. Sponsor agencies can even print out certificates to award to awesome providers that participate in CACFP!
Doing More than Celebrating CACFP
Child Care Aware® of America (CCAoA) believes that good nutrition is a critical part of high-quality child care to which all children should have access. That is why we encourage eligible providers to participate in CACFP. We also work to support policy change that promotes healthy food in child care through state licensing and Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS).
As partners for the Voices for Healthy Kids project, a joint initiative between the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we are happy to support Voices for Healthy Kids in providing technical assistance to campaigns that want to make sure child care programs meet minimum nutrition standards with the foods they serve. Some campaigns are trying to update their child care licensing rules. Others are adding nutrition standards to their QRIS or seeking state funds for technical assistance to help providers make their programs healthier.
Recently, our partners in Alabama saw hard work pay off! In late 2018, the child care center licensing rules (in Alabama, they’re called Minimum Standards for Day Care Centers) were revised to be the same as the CACFP requirements. That means all licensed centers must serve meals and snacks that meet the CACFP rules for serving sizes and for the foods required at each meal or snack—even if the program does not sign up to participate in CACFP. This change means that all children in licensed child care centers in Alabama will be served healthy, balanced meals. What an accomplishment! VOICES for Alabama’s Children led the campaign, but there were many important partners. Alabama Partnership for Children, local Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, grassroots organizers, the CACFP state agency and CACFP sponsor organizations all worked together to get support for this rule change.
The partners also coordinated their efforts—some worked on training and technical assistance to child care providers on healthy eating. Doing that work helped convince providers that they would be ready to meet the requirements of the new rule when it changed. Others focused on building important relationships with state agency leaders. Finally, bringing together all of the players at a Child Nutrition Summit helped remind all of the different organizations of their shared goal—to support the health and development of young children.
While the new minimum standards only apply to child care centers, Alabama’s family child care programs work hard to serve healthy meals to kids. Nearly 80 percent of home-based providers participate in CACFP and follow the program requirements. There’s still plenty of work to be done to make sure all kids have access to healthy meals in child care. But thanks to the patience, perseverance and partnership of Alabama’s coalition, the state has taken a big step toward healthier child care.
Visit the CACFP Celebration Week website to learn more about how you can participate including social media tools, nutrition handouts and giving awards to providers combating hunger!