December 17, 2021

3 Steps to Ensure Your Childcare Center Meets State Nutritional Requirements

By Angela Siebenaller, CACFP Specialist

Ensuring that your center is meeting nutrition standards is not only important for the health and wellness of the children in your care, but also a mandatory requirement for many licensing permits. It can be difficult to know how to get started. After helping more than 50 centers across several states meet necessary nutritional requirements, I’ve come up with three steps you can take to ensure these requirements are being met at your center.

1. Know your state’s handbook. Refer to your state specific Childcare Regulations Handbook for detailed requirements regarding:

    • Meal components and food items
    • Meal timing and schedules
    • Serving sizes
    • Menus
    • Meal service
    • Restricted foods and beverages
    • Infant feeding
    • Specific beverage requirements
    • Food allergies and special dietary needs
    • Food safety and sanitation standards

Each state has its own handbook—be sure to find yours. These resources are usually available online on your state’s government website.


2. Get familiar with the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Whether your center participates in CACFP or not, many states require that licensed childcare centers serve meals and snacks that are compliant with the CACFP meal pattern. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets meal pattern requirements for meals and snacks that consist of five components: meat/meat alternatives, fluid milk, fruits, vegetables, and grains. Each age group has minimum required portion sizes for each component that must be served for each meal or snack. For more information regarding CACFP check out Nutrition Standards for CACFP Meals and Snacks | Food and Nutrition Service (


3. Get a Game Plan. Once you are aware of the state specific requirements regarding serving meals to children in your center, it’s time to start planning. Some things to think about include:

    • Where will you shop? You may consider using a local food vendor, food service management company, a food distributor, a local grocery store, farmers markets or a combination of these.
    • Plan menus that meet nutritional requirements. Dated menus should be posted for the parents and staff.
    • Forecast ordering quantity by using enrollment numbers to order the correct amounts of food. The Food Buying Guide is a great resource used to estimate ordering quantities as well as determine the contribution that foods make toward the meal pattern.

We hope these tips help you tackle the process of feeding your students well and meeting state requirements!

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