One of the most important ways to give children the best start in life is by ensuring that they receive proper nutrition from the very beginning. Thankfully, there are programs available to help, such as The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). This invaluable program provides funding and support to childcare settings for serving nutritious meals and snacks that meet the dietary guidelines established by the USDA to eligible children and adults. Learn more about the CACFP.

This article breaks down tips and best practices into four key categories for quick reference. You’ll also find links to additional information that can help with any questions you have. We hope this article gives you confidence that you’re following CACFP requirements and providing the best possible care

Let’s jump in!

Teaming up with Parents 

Your success in the CACFP and the well-being of the infants in your care depend on the good relationships you build with parents and guardians. Work together like a team. Regular communication is key.

  • Get to know them, where they’re from, and what they do, and share information about yourself, especially those things you might have in common.
  • Ask about their baby’s eating habits at home, so you can align your care with what the makes their baby most comfortable and happy. 
  • Document whether parents accept or decline the formula and/or foods you offer. Daycare centers should use the Infant Feeding Statement. Home care providers should include it on the Child Enrollment Form, in their CACFP software, or on a sponsor-provided form.
  • Provide a private, clean, and inviting breastfeeding area and encourage your moms to use it, because breast milk is best for infants. Plus, you can get reimbursed, whether the infant is breast fed or bottle fed.  
  • Send them a quick update or share a photo of their baby while in your care. They’ll love it, but be sure to ask permission to send text messages. 

Want to explore more? Click here and go to Chapter 12.

Serving Meals to Infants

To ensure all children in the CACFP receive the best nutrition, home providers and childcare centers must offer meals to babies. The food you serve must also meet CACFP Meal Patterns for infants. Here’s a quick snapshot:

  • Feed infants when you see signs they’re hungry. (More here, Chapter 1, pages 8-9) You don’t have to feed them on a schedule. As long as you offer meals and snacks according to the infant meal patterns, they’re reimbursable – no matter if the baby eats a little bit now and a little bit later or not at all.
  •  Offer babies 100% of the serving size for it to be reimbursable.
  • Always make solid foods the proper texture to match a baby’s feeding skills and to prevent choking. (More here, Chapter 6)
  • Begin children on solid foods only when parents tell you their baby is eating solid foods at home and they want their baby to have solid foods at daycare. A written request from parents is even better; Be sure to document your infant menus. If they don’t tell you and you think the baby is ready for solid food, discuss it with them. 
  • As a courtesy for parents who bring bottled breast milk for their baby, let them know how much their child ate so they can better gauge how much to bring in the future. 
  • Be sure to document your infant menu for 6 months to first birthday. 

Importance of providing healthy meals for infants in childcare settings

Proper nutrition is so important for a baby’s development. The food you prepare for them may be simple, but the food components must be beneficial for them. Here are a few tips that will help maximize infants’ health and your reimbursements.

     Tips – 0 through 5 months
  • Purchase infant formula that is iron-fortified, a medical statement is required for non-iron fortified formula. Fruit and vegetable juices are not creditable.
  • Infant formula and breast milk (bottled or breastfed onsite) supplied by a parent are reimbursable. 
  • Infants who start solids prior to 6 months can be claimed.
 Tips  – 6 through 11 months
  • If a parent provides breast milk or formula, you must provide all the required solid food components. 
  • If a parent provides one solid food component, you must provide the formula and all the other required food components.
  • Like liquid formula, dry infant cereal must be iron-fortified. Always start an infant on single-grain infant cereal to ensure there are no allergic reactions.
  • Yogurt should have no more than 23 grams of sugar per 6 ounces.
  • All grains must be made with enriched or whole grain meal or flour. There is NO whole grain-rich requirement in the CACFP infant meal pattern.
  • Ready-to-eat cereals should only be used as snacks.
  • Never serve honey or foods made with honey. Honey can cause infant botulism.
  • Tofu, desserts, cereal bars, sweet rolls, pastries, baby food varieties of the same, and home-canned foods are not creditable.

Check out this food buying guide or this list of creditable foods (pages 150-171) for more details.

Recordkeeping Requirements Best Practices

In order to participate in the CACFP, providers must keep accurate records of the meals and snacks that are served to infants and young children. This includes keeping track of the number of infants and children who are served each day, as well as the specific foods that are provided.

Providers must keep records of any special dietary needs or food allergies that children may have (your state agency and/or sponsoring organization may have additional guidance on how to document infant meals), as well as any modifications that are made to their meals or snacks to accommodate these needs. One option for showing the various foods babies are served is to have a standard menu for all the babies in your care and adjust the menu for each baby based on what each baby is offered. For example, in our KidKare software, you can use a template that outlines the meal pattern requirements in one column and a space in another column for you to fill in what was served to each baby.

Feeding infants and young children in childcare settings is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. By providing healthy, nutritious meals and snacks that meet the guidelines established by the CACFP, you can help ensure that the youngest members of our society receive the nourishment they need to grow and thrive.

As a leader in CACFP software, we understand you might have some questions. So we’ve pulled together a few FAQs about claiming reimbursement for infants when they don’t eat at normal mealtime as well as other concerns childcare providers can have when it comes to feeding infants.  FAQs Article >

And finally, we’ve saved the best best practice for last. You can manage all of this and more like a pro, using software designed specifically for childcare providers like you who are participating in the CACFP. Compliance doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it can be a piece of cake. Learn more today!

Related Post


The secret behind great CACFP menus, according to our providers.

With the help of our providers, we've gathered a nice helping of advice and creative meal suggestions just for you.

Download our CACFP menus ebook!

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