WASHINGTON, January 31, 2024 — A report released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, outlines a pivotal cross-sector approach to improving children’s equitable access to fresh, nutritious foods to reduce hunger. Leveraging CACFP for Farm to Early Care and Education: Growing Wins Across Early Childhood and Food System Sectors provides recommendations and policy changes that support child care providers to access the federal Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP) and utilize it for eligible Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE) activities.
CACFP provides nutritious meals and snacks for eligible children enrolled in participating family child homes, child care centers, or Head Start programs. Research shows it can often be prohibitively expensive for child care providers to purchase local foods for use in meals served to the children in their care. CACFP helps alleviates these costs by boosting and stabilizing child care providers’ income and services, while simultaneously improving children’s nutrition and the overall quality of early care.
“Access to nutritious food is one of the key social determinants of health among young children,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “While individual programs play their respective role in ensuring young children can access the meals and snacks they need to grow and thrive, it will take cross-sector collaboration to help end the pervasive and multidimensional issue of food insecurity.”
Farm to ECE enhances nutrition by expanding access to local food sources, hands-on gardening activities, and food and agricultural education, and it also encourages the buying of locally farmed food. Farm to ECE activities are growing across the country, but more can be done to support child care providers to use CACFP for ECE activities, such as addressing such as outdated policies, inadequate funding, limited awareness, among other systemic barriers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts across food and early care and education systems. While impacted by the health and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ECE sector and food and agriculture systems are ripe with opportunity to build back with greater equity and resiliency,” said Guardia.
To reach more eligible children with nutritious meals and snacks in child care settings, FRAC recommends policy and regulation decision-makers, state agencies, CACFP sponsors, child care providers, local farmers and ranchers, regional food hubs, and other food system sector partners, adopt the following strategies:
- Promote awareness of CACFP and Farm to ECE through tailored outreach communications.
- Leverage CACFP State Administrative Expense Funds to provide training and technical assistance on Farm to ECE, such as producing state-level Farm to ECE guidance materials and employing a Farm to ECE coordinator.
- Advocate for and support local- and state-level local food procurement incentives for CACFP providers, including additional reimbursement for meals served that include local foods.
- Invest in local food procurement infrastructure and shared-service procurement models, such as central kitchens accessed by multiple CACFP providers.
CACFP and Farm to ECE initiatives work across sectors to address some of the social determinants that contribute to food insecurity. This includes inadequate access to quality early care and education, poor health outcomes, economic instability, and under-resourced food systems. These programs combat ongoing disparities related to race, ethnicity, income, and geography, fostering equitable access to fresh, healthy foods for young children.
“By implementing these actionable solutions, we can strengthen the impact of CACFP and Early Care and Education activities and ensure equitable access to fresh, healthy foods for young children,” said Guardia.
The report features templates that CACFP sponsors and providers can utilize to help streamline the processes necessary to leverage CACFP for Farm to ECE activities.
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram.