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USDA Updates Child Care Nutrition Program

Apr 27, 2016

Concerned about early childhood eating patterns and the precedent they set for lifelong diets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released this week a final rule that updated nutrition standards for the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program. While milk, cheese and yogurt will all continue to be integral parts of the meals and snacks served to children and adults at participating day care facilities, there are significant changes to the foods and beverages that those centers will be able to serve. The rule will go into effect October 1, 2017. 

This program serves about 3.6 million people each day, and during fiscal 2014 it served over 1.9 billion meals, including breakfasts, lunches, suppers and snacks. The meals are required to align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

This final rule follows recent updates to the nutrition requirements for the school meals programs. Fluid milk continues to be required with each meal and as an option at each snack served at these day care facilities. Yogurt and cheese are classified as meat alternates, a group that must be served at lunches and dinners or as options for breakfast and snacks.

Broadens Availability of Dairy Products

Some of the changes will broaden the availability of dairy products, such as the addition of yogurt and cheese to the meal patterns for infants of ages six to 12 months. The final rule will also permit meat alternates, including yogurt and cheese, to be served at breakfast up to three days per week. Additionally, adults in participating care centers may receive yogurt in place of fluid milk, instead of as a meat alternate, once per day.

Many of the changes reflect public health concerns over obesity and sugars intake. Milk served to children five years old and younger must be unflavored. If flavored milk is served to older children or adults, it must be fat free and is recommended to have less than 22 grams of sugar per eight fluid ounces. Whole milk is required for one-year-old children, while unflavored milk for other participants must be low-fat or fat free. The final rule requires yogurt to have no more than 23 grams of sugar per six ounces, which is six grams lower than the limit included in the proposed rule.

In addition to the regulatory mandates, the final rule also identifies a number of best practices, which are recommended but not required. These best practices include serving only natural cheese and low-fat and fat-free cheese.

USDA also indicated that it will continue to study the impact of the nutritional changes, including the sugar limits in flavored milk and the impact of water availability on milk consumption.

The final rule is available here.

For more information, contact Michelle Matto, IDFA’s consultant on nutrition and labeling, at

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