WASHINGTON, April 22, 2016 - Children and adults who receive meals as part of the National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) will get more whole grains and fruits and vegetables, and less added sugars and solid fats, under changes announced today by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.

A final rule to be published in Monday’s Federal Register “marks another important step toward ensuring young children have access to the nutrition they need and develop healthy habits that will contribute to their well-being over the long term,” USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said in a news release. Concannon, who runs the department’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, announced the changes at the annual conference of the National CACFP Sponsors Association in Orlando, Florida.

The new provisions are being enacted to better align them with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, FNS said in the final rule.

“These new, science-based standards carry the program a long way forward from meal patterns that have been essentially unchanged since the program’s introduction in 1968,” said Lorrene Ritchie, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute in the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, applauded the new rule, calling it “another big nutrition accomplishment for the (Obama) administration.”

“Modeling healthy eating is the most important way to teach kids how to eat well,” Wootan said.

Asked whether there was anything CSPI would have liked to have seen in the final rule, Wootan said that the “biggest challenge is the current reimbursement rate for the program.” Because USDA has to ensure that any changes are “cost-neutral,” it recommended adoption of “best practices” that otherwise could have been part of the regulations, she noted.

Among those best practices: Don’t serve flavored milk; provide at least two servings of whole

grain-rich grains per day; serve water as a beverage when serving yogurt in place of milk

for adults; limit servings of purchased pre-fried foods to no more than one serving per week.

The rule will go into effect Oct. 1, 2017, which “provides ample lead time for centers and day care homes to learn and understand the new meal pattern standards before they are required to be in full compliance,” USDA said in its release.

The first major revision of the CACFP since the program started in 1968 would also encourage breastfeeding by allowing for reimbursement of meals when the mother directly breastfeeds her infant at the child care center or home.

It also would support breastfeeding by encouraging centers to provide “a quiet, private area that is comfortable and sanitary in which mothers who come to the (day care) center or day care home can breastfeed,” according to the rule.

FNS tightened the requirements for juice. Instead of allowing 100 percent juice to make up the entire vegetable or fruit component at all meals, the final rule, “with strong support from commenters . . . limits the service of fruit juice or vegetable juice to one serving per day for children 1 year old and older and adults.”

“FNS acknowledges that 100 percent juice can be part of a healthful diet,” the rule says. “However, it lacks dietary fiber found in other forms of fruit, and when consumed in excess can

contribute to extra calories.” The change is expected to increase children’s consumption of whole vegetables and fruits, FNS said.

“CACFP providers, on average, already serve juice once per day or less,” the rule says. “Additionally, several states, including California, Texas, North Carolina, and Colorado, currently limit the service of juice via licensing requirements and experience high compliance rates. While FNS is aware that whole vegetables and fruits generally cost more than juice, FNS expects this limitation to be feasible and to not raise costs given these realities.”

In comments on the proposed rule, the Juice Products Association said that “limiting 100 percent juice in the diets of children and adults could potentially adversely affect this population’s nutritional status, diet quality and ability to meet DGA fruit and vegetable recommendations.”

More from the rule:

Meat: The rule allows “meat and meat alternates to be served in place of the entire grains

requirement at breakfast a maximum of three times per week.” The proposed rule would have allowed meat or meat alternates to substitute for half the grains requirement at all breakfasts. “By making this substitution optional, this modification to the proposal will not be burdensome, avoids increasing costs to the provider, and grants providers greater choices when planning breakfasts,” the rule says.

Yogurt: FNS cut the amount of sugar allowed in yogurt from 30 grams per six ounces to 23 grams. “Yogurt provides nutrients that are vital for health, growth, and maintenance of the body, including calcium, potassium, protein, and vitamin D (when fortified). These beneficial nutrients can be ‘diluted’ by the addition of calories from added sugars,” the rule says.

“Yogurts containing no more than 23 grams of sugar per 6 ounces are widely available in the current marketplace and all yogurts available through USDA Foods currently contain significantly less than 23 grams of sugar per 6 ounces.”

Though lower than the National Academy of Medicine recommendation, the 23-gram limit is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, FNS said. The service also noted that Dannon has “pledged to reduce the amount of total sugar in all of their yogurt products for children to 23

grams of sugar or less per 6 ounces by 2016.” The company committed in 2014 to meet the target for all of its children’s yogurts and 70 percent of its products overall.

Milk: In line with the proposed rule, the final rule requires that unflavored whole milk be served to children 1 year of age and prohibits flavored milk for children 2 to 5 years old. “This is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, and with the NAM’s recommendation, which identifies flavored milk as a source of added sugars,” FNS said.

The proposal contained two options: Prohibiting flavored milk for 2- to 4-year-olds or limiting the sugar in flavored milk for that age range to 22 grams per 8 ounces.

Grains: The rule does not allow providers to use grain-based desserts to meet the grains requirements, which FNS estimated would save providers an average of $30 million per year from 2018-2021.