Child and Adult Care Food Program

Developing Food Policies

Picture of a boy eating his mealFood policies can help to insure that children receive healthful, age appropriate foods prepared in a sanitary manner. Written policies are particularly helpful during times of change such as when a new administrator or cook is hired. Food policies are simply the rules or plans that the day care has concerning food and nutrition. Most day care centers already have some food policies in place. For instance, many day cares require that families supply premixed infant formulas. Another common policy is that children are not permitted to bring food from home except under unusual circumstances.

All policies must be supported by generally accepted nutrition guidelines for growing children. Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Children will be fed according to the menu unless the center is directed otherwise in writing by the child's physician.
  • Neither food nor candy will be used as a reward or punishment.
  • Soft drinks, Kool Aid, punch, lemonade and other sugary drinks will not be served at the day care center.
  • All children between 1 and 2 years of age will be served whole milk; all children aged 2 years and above will be served skim milk.
  • Once a policy has been decided upon, share it in written form with all families, and post it for easy reference. All policies should be reviewed and updated as needed on a yearly basis.

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Special Occasions: Holidays and Celebrations

Holidays and celebrations offer unique opportunities for the day care provider to model healthful eating and offer tasty alternatives to traditional party fare. Pairing scrumptious, nutritious food with a holiday environment helps children to recognize that eating healthy can be fun!

It is important to recognize, too, that the most festive parts of a celebration for little children are usually the costumes, decorations, and special activities. Food doesn't have to take "center stage" in your party planning. Instead, emphasize the chance to dress up, dance, sing, play games, and decorate as "the party."

Party Food Policies

A written policy that addresses party foods can help to avoid conflicts with families and staff while assuring that your nutrition program goals are not left behind at party time. It may be helpful to appoint a committee of family members, teachers, and other staff to develop the policy. Compliance is generally improved when all are included.

There should also be a policy regarding party prizes and party favors. If they are given, be sure that each child receives a prize or party favor. Do not use food or candy as a prize or reward. Giving special attention or candy as a prize or reward teaches a child that these sweets are more highly "prized" than other foods.

Respecting Many Cultures in Celebrations

Holidays offer unique opportunities to feature traditional foods from various cultures. Families from various cultural backgrounds can help to bring an authentic flavor to celebrations by sharing favorite foods and recipes. For example, the child with a Vietnamese heritage is likely to feel more accepted and understood if a traditional Vietnamese food, such as a frozen fruit drink, is served during a party at day care.

By engaging children in discussions about their families' holiday traditions, the day care staff will learn new activities and foods to incorporate into celebrations. Keep in mind that the holiday is more than just the food served - the games, songs and activities of various cultures help to make the day special.

Sample STEPs for Healthy Parties and Celebrations


On party days, consider the other foods being served for meals and snacks. Remember to balance the higher fat and higher sugar foods with more healthful choices. Avoid "empty calorie" foods such as candy, soda, and other sweet drinks. Instead, choose party foods that have some nutritional benefits. Some desserts and sweets are very nutritious - oatmeal or peanut butter cookies, pumpkin pudding, and cranberry quick bread. Remember, too, that quick breads, muffins and brownies made with enriched or whole-grain flour as the primary ingredient can be creditable on the CACFP.

Party foods ideas for several holidays and special occasions that are creditable in the CACFP are listed below.

Celebration Snack Menus

  • Birthdays
    • Pineapple-Orange Juice Punch
    • Brownies*
    • Low Fat Ice Cream**
  • Valentines Day
    • Cranberry & Apple Juice Punch
    • Heart Shaped Biscuits
    • Strawberry Jam**
  • Spring Holiday
    • Ambrosia (bananas, mandarin oranges, and miniature marshmallows)
    • Cereal Party Mix served in plastic eggs
  • Halloween
    • Pumpkin Muffins
    • Orange Juice Spritzer
  • Winter Holiday
    • Grape Juice
    • Mini Bagels
    • Chalsa, an apple-raisin spread**
  • Cinco de Mayo
    • Sopaipillas - flour tortillas with cinnamon and sugar
    • Pineapple Juice
  • Kwanzaa
    • Sweet Potato Pudding
    • Vanilla Wafers
  • Asian American Month
    • Baked Gingered Pears
    • Wonton Skins Baked with Parmesan Cheese

* Creditable if made with enriched or whole-grain flour as the primary ingredient.

** These foods are considered "extras" and are not creditable in the CACFP.

Teaching Children

Parties are great times to involve children with special food preparation. Simple recipes with ingredients that are prepared in advance allow children to feel competent and included. In addition, when children are involved in the preparation of a dish, they are more likely to eat it. This is especially helpful when you are introducing a new or unfamiliar food such as an ethnic dish.

Plan for all children to be involved in the food preparation. Explain rules about safety and cleanliness to children before cooking experiences. Gently remind them to throw away foods that drop on the floor and to wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. Let the children wash work surfaces and set the table. When possible, allow the children to help with the washing or chopping of fruits or vegetables used in the recipe. For a more complicated dish, have each child prepare or assemble his or her own portion.

Keeping food sanitary can be a real challenge when working with preschoolers. Inviting family members or other adults to assist the children with food preparation, can help to insure cleanliness. During the fuss and flurry of party preparations, be very careful to keep cold foods refrigerated until just before serving.

Educating Families

Remind families that the purpose of the party is to CELEBRATE, and food is only a part of the festivities. Inviting families to participate in party activities - reading a story, leading a game, or helping the children to make decorations or costumes - helps to create a supportive relationship between the families and the day care. At the same time, the family members are modeling healthy party activities for the children.

Planning for Change

Instruct staff members to avoid putting emphasis on dessert and party foods. Giving too much attention to the foods served at a party teaches the child that the food is the most important part of the celebration. Instead, talk about the fun time you will all have and the purpose of the celebration.

Party Talk

Instead of Emphasizing Foods:

  • "For Sally's birthday, we're going to have cake and ice cream after nap time."
  • "We're going to trick or treat in the other classrooms tomorrow."
  • "Bring your Easter baskets for our hunt tomorrow."
  • "We will decorate our cupcakes with candy hearts this morning."

Emphasize Activities:

  • "For Sally's birthday celebration, we're going to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey"
  • "Remember to wear your costume tomorrow so that we can have a show."
  • "Won't it be fun to paint pretty eggs on the windows tomorrow?"
  • "We're going to make a gift for our special Valentines this morning."

Prepare staff members for changes in the party policy, and together determine ways to involve families. Refer to the section on food policy development to guide you in this process. Outline the changes that are to be made. Let the staff decide what changes will be made first. Remember to make changes gradually to ensure acceptance and success.

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