The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a proposed rule today with new science-based nutrition standards for meals provided through USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Under the proposed rule, meals served to children and adults in daycare will include a greater variety of vegetables and fruits, more whole grains and less sugar and fat.
The proposal is the first major update of the CACFP meal patterns since the program's inception in 1968. According to USDA, the changes support the ongoing efforts of numerous parents, and the many public and private organizations that serve children, to solve the current obesity crisis.
The proposed changes also support breastfeeding and improve access to healthy beverages, including water and low-fat and fat-free milk. These updated meal patterns are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, scientific recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, and stakeholder input.
USDA designed meal pattern changes that would not increase cost for providers. The proposal focuses on incremental changes that reflect the science behind the nutritional needs of CACFP’s diverse participants, and are practical and achievable for the program’s varied service providers to implement. Along with the updated meal patterns, USDA is proposing best practices as a guide for providers when choosing to take additional steps to offer high-quality and nutritious meals in their program.
“With over 1 in 5 children under the age of 5 being overweight or obese, the proposed improvements to the CACFP meal patterns will help safeguard the health of children early in their lives," said Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon. “Providing children access to nutritious food early in life helps instill healthy habits that can serve as a foundation for a lifetime of healthy choices."
Mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the proposed meal pattern updates are designed to work in concert with USDA’s school meals standards, now implemented in schools across the country. In December 2010, President Obama signed the $4.5-billion measure that allocated more money to poor areas to subsidize free meals and requires schools to abide by health guidelines drafted by USDA. The legislation was championed by first lady Michelle Obama and her “Let's Move" campaign to combat child obesity in the United States.
Under the ruleNutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, 7 CFR Parts 210 and 220 requires that most schools increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk, while reducing sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals.
It will be interesting to see if the proposed rule will attract the same amount of backlash as the changes to the National School Lunch Program. The new meal pattern went into effect at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, increasing the availability of, and requirements for fruits, vegetables and whole grains on the menu. In addition, new dietary specifications set calorie limits to ensure age-appropriate meals for grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
The new lunch rules were met with a lukewarm reception. Many students nationwide boycotted the new lunches using social media as a vehicle to spread their message. Parents and school administrators also voiced concern over the new nutrition rules citing the guidelines should not fall into a “one size fits all" rule. According to the rule, lunches for K-5 have a calorie restriction of 550-650; grades 6-8, 600-700; and grades 9-12, 750-850. The calorie counts do not take into consideration for the exception to the rule for student athletes among others who would require greater caloric or protein intake.
As a result, USDA in January 2014 allowed schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to serve larger portions of lean protein and whole grains at mealtime.