Improving Access To Nutritious Meals In Child Care Settings
Apr 28, 2009
One major agenda item for Congress this year is reauthorization of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act. This law provides support for federal child nutrition programs, which include the National School Lunch Program, WIC, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CACFP provides healthy meals and snacks to millions of children each year and is a vital support for both children and child care providers, including centers, family child care homes, and Head Start programs. CACFP helps providers achieve high-quality care, which includes access to nutritious foods, while maintaining affordability for low-income families. Through CACFP, providers are reimbursed for serving up to two meals and a snack daily for low-income children. They also receive training on child nutrition and onsite technical assistance to meet CACFP s high nutritional standards. Research has found that CACFP-participating providers serve meals that are of higher nutritional quality than providers not in the program and that CACFP participation is linked with higher quality care.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, almost 3.2 million children in child care settings benefit from CACFP. Nearly 50,000 child care centers, and over 140,000 family child care providers participate in the program. Since 1996, the number of participating child care centers has increased by nearly 50 percent, while the number of participating family child care homes has fallen by 27 percent. Stringent eligibility guidelines and complex reimbursement structures have contributed to the reduction in participating family child care providers and effectively prevented many low-income children from receiving the nutritious meals they need.
Changes to the food programs should improve access and the nutritional quality of available foods, particularly as more low-income families are struggling to meet basic needs in this economy. CACFP eligibility for low-income children and family child care providers should be streamlined to ease participation. Meal reimbursements should be enhanced to cover increased food costs and offer an option of a third meal for children in care for long hours. With these and other changes, the child nutrition bill will continue to provide the most basic support, regular and healthy meals, to more of our nation s children.