For the first time, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) provide recommendations for infants and toddlers from birth through 24 months. The inclusion of these new recommendations in the DGAs underscores the importance of examining the diet quality of young children, particularly those served by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which provides meals and snacks to more than 4.2 million children each day using guidance that is based on the DGAs.
The CACFP nutrition standards (also known as “meal patterns”) address children up to age 18; however, the National School Lunch Program plays an important role in providing nutrition supplementation to school-age children, whereas CACFP may be the primary source of nutritional supplementation for preschool-aged children. Thus, here we focus on children aged 5 and younger in the childcare center setting. This includes children served by the more than 65,000 childcare centers who are participating in CACFP. Furthermore, President Biden’s American Families Plan proposes to provide universal preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds, which could greatly increase the number of children served by CACFP. Children attending full-time childcare programs are typically served breakfast, lunch, and a snack, which constitutes a recommended 2/3 of their total daily nutritional intake. As such, the CACFP nutrition standards have the potential to significantly impact diet quality of children across the U.S.
CACFP meal patterns were updated in 2016 to better align with the 2015-2020 DGAs. While the DGAs and CACFP meal patterns are based on common science, the inclusion of new guidelines for young children in the 2020-2025 DGAs presents an opportunity to assess alignment between the current DGAs and CACFP nutrition standards.