Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.2 General Requirements

4.2.0 Feeding Plans and Dietary Modifications

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


Before a child enters an early care and education facility, the facility should obtain a written history that contains any special nutrition or feeding needs for the child, including use of human milk or any special feeding utensils. The staff should review this history with the child’s parents/guardians, clarifying and discussing how the parents’/guardians’ home feeding routines may differ from the facility’s planned routine. The child’s primary health care provider should provide written information to the parent/guardian about any dietary modifications or special feeding techniques that are required at the early care and education program so they can be shared with and implemented by the program.

If dietary modifications are indicated, based on a child’s medical or special dietary needs, caregivers/teachers should modify or supplement the child’s diet to meet the individual child’s specific needs. Dietary modifications should be made in consultation with the parents/guardians and the child’s primary health care provider. Caregivers/teachers can consult with a nutritionist/registered dietitian.

A child’s diet may be modified because of food sensitivity, a food allergy, or many other reasons. Food sensitivity includes a range of conditions in which a child exhibits an adverse reaction to a food that, in some instances, can be life-threatening. Modification of a child’s diet may also be related to a food allergy, an inability to digest or to tolerate certain foods, a need for extra calories, a need for special positioning while eating, diabetes and the need to match food with insulin, food idiosyncrasies, and other identified feeding issues, including celiac disease, phenylketonuria, diabetes, and severe food allergy (anaphylaxis). In some cases, a child may become ill if he/she is unable to eat, so missing a meal could have a negative consequence, especially for children with diabetes.

For a child with special health care needs who requires dietary modifications or special feeding techniques, written instructions from the child’s parent/guardian and the child’s primary health care provider should be provided in the child’s record and carried out accordingly. Dietary modifications should be recorded. These written instructions must identify
a.  The child’s full name and date of instructions
b.  The child’s special health care needs
c.   Any dietary restrictions based on those special needs
d.  Any special feeding or eating utensils
e.  Any foods to be omitted from the diet and any foods to be substituted
f.    Any other pertinent information about the child’s special health care needs
g.  What, if anything, needs to be done if the child is exposed to restricted foods
The written history of special nutrition or feeding needs should be used to develop individual feeding plans and, collectively, to develop facility menus. Health care providers with experience in disciplines related to special nutrition needs, including nutrition, nursing, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, should participate when needed and/or when they are available to the facility. If available, the nutritionist/registered dietitian should approve menus that accommodate needed dietary modifications.

The feeding plan should include steps to take when a situation arises that requires rapid response by the staff, such as a child choking during mealtime or a child with a known history of food allergies demonstrating signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), such as difficulty breathing and severe redness and swelling of the face or mouth. The completed plan should be on file and accessible to staff and available to parents/guardians on request.


Children with special health care needs may have individual requirements related to diet and swallowing, involving special feeding utensils and feeding needs that will necessitate the development of an individual plan prior to their entry into the facility (1). Many children with special health care needs have difficulty with feeding, including delayed attainment of basic chewing, swallowing, and independent feeding skills. Food, eating style, food utensils, and equipment, including furniture, may have to be adapted to meet the developmental and physical needs of individual children (2,3,).

Some children have difficulty with slow weight gain and need their caloric intake monitored and supplemented. Others, such as those with diabetes, may need to have their diet matched to their medication (e.g., insulin, if they are on a fixed dose of insulin). Some children are unable to tolerate certain foods because of their allergy to the food or their inability to digest it. The 8 most common foods to cause anaphylaxis in children are cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts (3). Staff members must know ahead of time what procedures to follow, as well as their designated roles, during an emergency.

As a safety and health precaution, staff should know in advance whether a child has food allergies, inborn errors of metabolism, diabetes, celiac disease, tongue thrust, or special health care needs related to feeding, such as requiring special feeding utensils or equipment, nasogastric or gastric tube feedings, or special positioning. These situations require individual planning prior to the child’s entry into an early care and education program and on an ongoing basis (2).

In some cases, dietary modifications are based on religious or cultural beliefs. Detailed information on each child’s special needs, whether stemming from dietary, feeding equipment, or cultural needs, is invaluable to the facility staff in meeting the nutritional needs of all the children in their care.

Close collaboration between families and the facility is necessary for children on special diets. Parents/guardians may have to provide food on a temporary, or even permanent, basis, if the facility, after exploring all community resources, is unable to provide the special diet.

Programs may consider using the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan, which is included in the AAP clinical report, Guidance on Completing a Written Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan (4).
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Care Plan for Children with Special Health Care Needs Written Nutrition Plan Assessment and Planning of Nutrition for Individual Children Vegetarian/Vegan Diets Responsive Feeding of Infants by a Consistent Caregiver/Teacher Foods that Are Choking Hazards
  1. Samour PQ, King K. Pediatric Nutrition. 4th ed. Sunbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2010
  2. Kleinman RE, Greer FR, eds. Pediatric Nutrition. 7th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2014
  3. Kaczkowski CH, Caffrey C. Pediatric nutrition. In: Blanchfield DS, ed. The Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy Through Adolescence. Vol 3. 3rd ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale; 2016:2063–2066
  4. Wang J, Sicherer SH; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy and Immunology. Guidance on completing a written allergy and anaphylaxis emergency plan. Pediatrics. 2017;139(3):e20164005

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