To participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), your child or adult care center must follow a meal pattern that is specific to the age range of the children or adults you serve. The meal pattern provides a guide that ensures healthy, balanced meals and snacks are served to the participants at your center.

The CACFP Meal Pattern Consists of 5 Meal Components

  • Includes pasteurized, fortified cow’s milk. Nutritionally equivalent milk substitutes may be requested for those who have special diets (does not include most nut milks like almond or cashew milk or coconut milk).

  • Unflavored whole milk must be served to children age one. Milk must be unflavored low-fat (1%) or unflavored fat-free (skim) milk for children ages 2-5 years old. For children age 6 years and older and adults, milk must be unflavored low-fat (1%), unflavored fat-free (skim), or flavored fat-free (skim) milk.

  • Includes a variety of protein-containing foods like fish, poultry, lean meat, cheeses, eggs, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butter, cooked dry beans, and yogurt.

  • Processed meats that contain additives or fillers must have a Child Nutrition (CN) label or product formulation statement that proves how much of the product is meat and credits towards this component. Not all processed meats are creditable.

  • Includes a wide variety of fresh, frozen, canned or 100% vegetable juices. Most vegetables are creditable. 100% juice may be served a maximum of one time per day.

  • Includes a wide variety of fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or 100% fruit juices. Most fruits are creditable. 100% juice may be served a maximum of one time per day.

  • Includes breads, pastas, cereals, crackers, muffins, tortillas, and more. All grains must either be enriched or whole grain to count towards the meal pattern. At least one serving of grains per day must be whole grain-rich (WGR). For a specific list of popular whole grain items, instructions to identify whole grain-rich foods, and serving sizes for whole grains, check out the grains handouts below (USDA Meal Pattern Worksheets and our Whole Grain-Rich Food Guide).

  • Cereals must not contain more than 6 grams of sugar per dry ounce. Check out the USDA’s meal pattern worksheets below for more specific information!

  • Grain-based deserts like cookies, cakes, cupcakes, and pies are not creditable.

  • Granola/grain fruit bars are not creditable.

Different combinations of these 5 meal components are required to meet the CACFP meal pattern for breakfast, lunch/supper, and snacks. Water must be offered and made available at all times. To learn more about what is required for each meal type by participant age or to learn more about following the CACFP meal pattern, check out the following links from both the USDA and Partners In Quality Care:

Meal Pattern Requirements By Age
Easy-to-Read Meal Pattern Posters
USDA Meal Pattern Worksheets
Whole Grain-Rich Food Guide


We can help you build a creditable menu that works for you and your center!
For specific nutrition questions contact our nutrition specialist, Jessica.

Contact Jessica