Expanding CACFP

The federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides financial support for quality food service in ECE programs, rendering it a key policy lever in addressing food insecurity and improving nutrition in young children.

When children eat their meals and snacks at CACFP-participating centers or daycare homes, their families could save up to $38.5 (in FY2023/2024) per child in weekly food costs. CACFP supports the success of ECE programs because without CACFP meal reimbursements, providers might need to charge higher tuition or stop serving meals. CACFP also provides nutrition education free of charge, which can benefit the ECE providers as well as the children in their care.

Despite the benefits of participation in CACFP, program utilization remains low, particularly in certain areas, limiting access to healthy meals and snacks for millions of young children. Our goal is to support expanded access to CACFP to help thousands more ECE providers to serve nutritious food to children in their care.

Read about our projects and explore resources about expanding CACFP below.


Understanding the Lost Opportunity of CACFP in Improving Child Nutrition and Reducing Health Inequities

(2020-2022) The USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) plays a large role in supporting nutrition in child care settings, specifically targeting these benefits to low-income populations. Foods provided to children participating in CACFP must meet specific nutrition standards in order to be reimbursed with federal funds. This study sought to understand how the recently updated CACFP meal patterns match the practical abilities of participating programs to implement them. A second aim of this study was to evaluate access to CACFP to improve the availability of CACFP-funded meals and reduce inequities in food access and health. The study used a mixed methods approach drawing from a natural experiment to assess the impact of the updated meal patterns on children’s meals and a national sample to evaluate inequities in access to CACFP among child care centers. Funded by a grant from Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Barriers to Participation in CACFP: Opportunities for Expansion

CACFP - Barriers to Participation Study

(2017-2019) This study aimed to understand experiences and challenges faced by CACFP-participating programs in order to identify opportunities for expanding access to CACFP. In an online survey of CACFP-participating child care centers in Connecticut, we described center experiences with CACFP, including reasons for participation, challenges with adherence to the program requirements and implementation of the revised CACFP meal patterns. We gathered center recommendations to make CACFP participation and uptake easier for child care providers and proposed policy changes for making them a reality. Finally, we provided an economic rationale for states to expand access to CACFP. We calculated the economic cost of CACFP underutilization in Connecticut, including federal funding lost due to lack of participation among eligible child care centers.

Funded by a grant administered by the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut and funded by the Children’s Fund of Connecticut, Connecticut Health Foundation, and Newman’s Own Foundation.