Expanding CACFP

The federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides financial support for food service in ECE programs, rendering it a key policy lever in addressing food security and improving nutrition in young children. When children eat their meals and snacks at CACFP-participating centers or daycare homes, their families save up to $33.15 (in FY2021/2022) per child in weekly food costs. CACFP also supports the success of ECE programs because without CACFP meal reimbursements, providers might need to charge higher tuition or stop providing meals to children in need. 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 – including the availability of federal funds to help more children - program utilization remains low, limiting access to healthy meals and snacks for millions of young children. Our goal is to support expanded access to CACFP and correct a lost economic opportunity for thousands of ECE providers and children they serve.

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

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 seeks to understand how the recently updated CACFP meal patterns match the practical abilities of participating programs to implement them. The study also aims to evaluate how children’s meal quality has changed because of the updates. While improving the CACFP meal patterns is of great importance, the reality is that CACFP does not reach all the children who could benefit from the program. Thus, a second aim of this study is to enhance knowledge about access to CACFP in order to improve the availability of CACFP-funded meals and reduce inequities in food access and health. The study will employ a mixed methods approach that will include both a natural experiment to assess the impact of the updated meal patterns on children’s meals as well as a national sample that will be used to evaluate inequities in access to CACFP-participating child care centers. Funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its Healthy Eating Research program.

Barriers to Participation in CACFP: Opportunities for Expansion

This study aims 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 describe center experiences with CACFP, including reasons for participation, challenges with adherence to the program requirements and implementation of the revised CACFP meal patterns. We gather center recommendations to make CACFP participation and uptake easier for child care providers and propose policy changes for making them a reality. Finally, we provide an economic rationale for states to expand access to CACFP. We calculate an economic cost of CACFP underutilization in the state of Connecticut, including federal funding lost due to lack of participation among eligible child care providers. We compare it with the financial burden on families whose young children did not receive nutritious CACFP meals that they are entitled to and that would help them thrive.

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.



Frequently Asked Questions

What are the CACFP Nutrition Standards?

  • For the CT State Department of Education’s Meal Pattern Requirements for CACFP Child Care Programs (revised Dec. 2017), click here.
  • For the complete USDA CACFP meal patterns for children, click here.
  • For the complete USDA CACFP meal patterns for infants, click here.

Who Can Participate in CACFP?

  • Both nonprofit and for-profit licensed child care centers and group child care homes in CT are eligible to participate in CACFP. All licensed nonprofit centers and group child care homes are automatically eligible to apply, irrespective of income status among families that they serve. In order for a for-profit center to participate, at least 25% of enrolled children must be eligible for free or reduced-price meals at all times. An example of such eligibility would be a family’s receipt of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps.
  • Licensed family child care homes serving children ages 12 and younger can participate in CACFP and be reimbursed for up to two meals and one snack, or one meal and two snacks per day for each child in their care. Family day care providers must enter into agreements with a sponsoring organization that will assume administrative and financial responsibility for CACFP operations. Sponsors recruit, train, monitor, and reimburse family child care providers. Connecticut’s five sponsoring organizations include Providers Nutrition Network, TEAM, Inc., ACCESS Agency, Inc., Saugatuck Child Care Services, Inc., and the City of Hartford Department of Families, Children, Youth & Recreation.

How is Reimbursement Determined?

  • CACFP reimburses family child care homes for meals and snacks that meet the CACFP nutrition standards served to children at rates based on the food service payment set by the USDA (Tier 1 or Tier 2). Reimbursement rates are revised annually for the cost of living adjustment. The rates below are the same for all contiguous states.
  • CACFP reimburses child care centers and group homes for meals and snacks that meet the CACFP nutrition standards served to children at rates based upon a child’s eligibility for free, reduced price or over-income meals or snacks. Meal reimbursement is calculated by a formula based on the type and number of meals served, income eligibility of each participant, and the USDA meal rate. Reimbursement rates are revised annually for the cost of living adjustment. The rates below are the same for all contiguous states.