Child and Adult Care Food Program

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides meals and snacks to children at family day care homes, child care centers, homeless shelters, and after-school programs, and to older or functionally impaired adults at adult day care centers. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, more than 4.3 million children and 131,634 adults received CACFP meals and snacks on an average day. Total cost to USDA for CACFP in FY 2018 was $3.6 billion. 

Meals and snacks provided through CACFP can be especially important to working parents, playing a role in improving day care quality and making day care more affordable for recipients. In child care centers, meals and snacks are reimbursed at either free, reduced-price, or full rate, depending on children's family income—similar to the reimbursement structure for school meals. In day care homes, meals are reimbursed either at tier 1 rates—rates which provide higher levels of reimbursement to low-income areas, providers, or children—or at lower tier 2 rates.

The number of children participating in CACFP through child care centers has grown—from 1.7 million children in 2000 to 3.6 million in 2018. This resulted in an increase in total participation in CACFP from 2.7 million in 2000, with a high of 4.4 million in 2017, despite the drop in participation of children attending family day care homes. In 2018, the number of children attending centers who participated in the program was 3.6 million—the same level as in 2017. But, fewer children in day care homes participated, dropping from 1 million in 2000 to less than 800,000 children in FY 2018.

An ERS report summarized recent research and found evidence that participation in CACFP by child care providers improves food security for households with children enrolled in the centers; it also improves consumption of milk and vegetables. See:

Children’s Food Security and USDA Child Nutrition Programs

As part of the changes required by Congressional reauthorization of the program in 2010, CACFP is allowed to provide suppers to children attending after-school programs in high-need areas, where at least 50 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals (see After-School Snacks and Suppers). In addition, reauthorizing legislation required USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to develop updated nutrition standards for CACFP meals and snacks that better reflect current Federal dietary guidance. Since 2017, CACFP centers and day care homes have been required to meet updated standards, with meals that include a greater variety of vegetables and fruits, more whole grains, and less added sugar and saturated fat.