The last federally sponsored meal program undergoes nutrition standard changes

The Child and Adult Care Food Program meal pattern changes have been announced.

Federally sponsored meal and snack programs have been undergoing makeovers in the last five years as a result of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010. This means that food provided through these programs, which is served to many of our nation’s most vulnerable populations, will be considerably healthier. Updates to a number of these programs have been the first changes in decades. Two previous articles highlight the changes to the National School Lunch Program and the Community Eligibility Program for providing meals at no cost to qualifying communities.

Along with the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and National School Lunch Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) will be introducing a new meal pattern. This program serves more than 3 million children and about 120,000 qualifying adults nationwide. The meal pattern announcement was made at the CACFP national conference in late April. Information for this article was gathered in an interview with the Undersecretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, Kevin Concannon.

According to the USDA, these meal pattern updates for the CACFP are the first changes since 1968. The changes will include an increase in amount and variety of vegetables and fruits served, more whole grains, a departure from fried food, a reduction in sugar, and ensuring that dairy products (cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt) are real, rather than cheese food or product. All these changes and more are specifically communicated in the final rule, which was published on April 25.

The nutrition standards for the CACFP are the last of the federally sponsored food programs serving children to be updated. The significance of this is that now programs serving children from birth to adulthood are in line with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and include more nutrient dense food than ever before. Undersecretary Concannon expressed his excitement about the passing of this final rule because all ages are covered. According to him, the CACFP providers are also excited to implement these changes to their programs to benefit their clients.

Fortunately, CACFP providers and food distributors have until October 1, 2017 to be in compliance with the new standards. These stakeholders have been part of the process of amending the rule and received notice of the final changes in late April. According to Undersecretary Concannon, many of the comments that were made on the proposed rule were taken into account and reflected in the final rule.

For many students, federally sponsored meals are the primary source of nutritious foods in their lives. Ensuring that the foods served in these meal programs are nutrient dense is a priority, and the new nutrition standards are a demonstration of a step in improving meals and snacks.

Michigan State University Extension supports access to healthy food for all of Michigan’s residents during the entire year. For more information on efforts to increase consumption of local, healthy food, read this article about the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, or like them on Facebook.

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