New nutrition standards encourage healthy eating for children, infants

More than 3.3 million children across the U.S. will eat healthier meals and snacks, thanks to recent revisions to the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These new dietary rules and suggested best practices may serve as a useful guide for you, even if your program or child care facility does not participate in the subsidized program.

Children eating cereal

CACFP provides reimbursement for food expenses in Head Start, child care centers, family child care homes, school-based pre-K programs, after school programs, emergency shelters and adult day care. The recent changes—the most significant revision to the program since 1968—support breastfeeding and increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains while reducing the intake of juice, added sugars, saturated fats and deep fried foods. Here are some highlights:


  • Only breastmilk and/or infant formula may be served to infants ages 0-5 months.
  • Solid foods are gradually introduced around 6 months of age, as developmentally appropriate.
  • A fruit or vegetable, or both, is required at snack for infants 6-11 months old.
  • Juice, cheese food and cheese spread are no longer allowed to be served.
  • Ready-to-eat cereals are permitted.

Click here to see a side-by-side comparison of the old and new infant meal patterns

Boy eating celery with peanut butter


  • Vegetable and fruit juice may be served just once per day.
  • A fruit and vegetable must be served at lunch and dinner for all children over 1 year of age.
  • At least one serving of grains per day must be whole grain-rich.
  • Grain-based desserts no longer count towards the grains requirement.
  • Meat and meat alternatives may be served in place of grains at breakfast no more than 3 times per week.
  • Tofu counts as a meat alternative.
  • Yogurt may contain no more than 23 grams of sugar per 6 ounce serving.
  • Breakfast cereals may contain no more than 6 grams of sugar per dry ounce.
  • Unflavored whole milk must be served to 1 year olds; unflavored low-fat or fat-free milk must be served to children 2-5 years old; and unflavored low-fat, unflavored fat-free or flavored fat-free milk must be served to children 6 years and older.
  • Non-dairy milk substitutes that are nutritionally equivalent to milk may be served in place of milk to children with medical or special dietary needs.
  • Frying is not allowed as a way to prepare foods on-site.

Click here to see a side-by-side comparison of old and new child and adult meal patterns, including minimum serving sizes for each food group per meal and snack.

The USDA also provides the following suggestions for child care providers that wish to take additional steps to improve the nutritional quality of the meals they serve and encourage healthy eating for children:

Girl eating vegetables
  • Make at least 1 of the 2 required components of every snack a fruit or vegetable.
  • Serve a variety of fruits and choose whole fruits (fresh, canned, dried or frozen) more often than juice.
  • Plan a weekly menu that includes at least one serving each of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas (legumes), starchy vegetables and other vegetables throughout the week.
  • Provide at least two servings of whole grain-rich grains per day.
  • Serve only lean meats, nuts and legumes.
  • Limit processed meats to no more than one serving per week.
  • Serve only natural cheeses and choose low-fat or reduced fat cheeses.

The new guidelines are based on recommendations from the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Participating centers and day care homes must comply with the new meal patterns by October 1, 2017.

To apply for CACFP funding in Indiana or to see if your child’s facility participates, contact the Indiana Department of Education.

Jump IN for Healthy Kids can help you plan and prepare healthier meals and snacks for the children in your care—as well as your employees and your own family. Visit our Resource Hub for ideas, links and inspiration. GET RESOURCES