Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.2 General Requirements

4.2.0 Meal and Snack Patterns

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 11/9/2017. 


The facility should ensure that the following meal and snack pattern occurs:

   a.  Children in care for 8 or fewer hours in 1 day should be offered at least 1 meal and 2 snacks or 2 meals and 1 snack (1).
   b.  A nutritious snack should be offered to all children in midmorning (if they are not offered a breakfast on-site that is provided within 3 hours of lunch) and in mid-afternoon.
   c.   Children should be offered food at intervals at least 2 hours apart but not more than 3 hours apart unless the child is asleep. Some very young infants may need to be fed at shorter intervals than every 2 hours to meet their nutritional needs, especially breastfed infants being fed expressed human milk. Lunch may need to be served to toddlers earlier than preschool-aged children because of their need for an earlier nap schedule. Children must be awake prior to being offered a meal/snack.
   d.  Children should be allowed time to eat their food and not be rushed during the meal or snack service. They should not be allowed to play during these times.
   e.  Caregivers/teachers should discuss breastfed infants’ feeding patterns with their parents/guardians because the frequency of breastfeeding at home can vary. For example, some infants may still be feeding frequently at night, while others may do the bulk of their feeding during the day. Knowledge about infants’ feeding patterns over 24 hours will help caregivers/teachers assess infants’ feeding schedules during their time together.

Children younger than 6 years need to be offered food every 2 to 3 hours. Appetite and interest in food varies from one meal or snack to the next. Appropriate timing of meals and snacks prevents children from snacking throughout the day and ensures that children maintain healthy appetites during mealtimes (2,3). Snacks should be nutritious, as they often are a significant part of a child’s daily intake. Children in care for longer than 8 hours need additional food because this period represents most of a young child’s waking hours.
Caloric needs vary greatly from one child to another. A child may require more food during growth spurts (4). Some states have regulations that indicate suggested times for meals and snacks. By regulation, under the US Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), centers and family child care homes may be approved to claim up to 2 reimbursable meals (breakfast, lunch, or supper) and 1 snack, or 2 snacks and 1 meal, for each eligible participant, each day. Many after-school programs provide before-school care or full-day care when elementary school is out of session. Many of these programs offer breakfast and/or a morning snack. After-school care programs may claim reimbursement for serving each child one snack, each day. In some states after-school programs also have the option of providing supper. These are reimbursed by CACFP if they meet certain guidelines and time frames (5).
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Responsive Feeding of Infants by a Consistent Caregiver/Teacher Meal and Snack Patterns for Toddlers and Preschoolers Meal and Snack Patterns for School-Age Children
  1. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Independent Child Care Centers: A Child and Adult Care Food Program Handbook. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture; 2014. Published May 2014. Accessed September 19, 2017
  2. Shield JE, Mullen M. When should my kids snack? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Web site. Published February 13, 2014. Accessed September 19, 2017
  3. Kleinman RE, Greer FR, eds. Pediatric Nutrition. 7th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2014
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Childhood nutrition. American Academy of Pediatrics Web site. Updated March 3, 2016. Accessed September 19, 2017
  5. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Why CACFP is important. Published September 22, 2014. Accessed September 19, 2017

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 11/9/2017.