Federal day care meals will receive their first nutritional overhaul in almost fifty years. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) oversees food offerings in day care, after-school snack programs, adult group homes, etc. Like the school lunch program, CACFP falls under the purview of the USDA.

The USDA recently released its proposed new CACFP guidelines, and the results are mixed. Advocates had hoped that recommendations provided by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) might more strongly influence the guidelines, but due to the possible “increased cost or complexity” in implementation, the USDA appears to have ignored some of the IOM’s recommendations. The new guidelines include an array of suggested “best practices.”

Bettina Elias Siegel (@thelunchtray) writes for Civil Eats:

“On the one hand, the new rules do bring improvements. CACFP providers will now be required to serve children a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and less sugar and fat–at least as compared to the old meal standards. The rules also include greater support for breastfeeding mothers, the acceptance of tofu as a meat substitute, and requirements that water be made available at meals, that “grain-based desserts” like cookies no longer fulfill children’s daily grain requirement, and that breakfast cereals contain less sugar.”

Author Siegel does a terrific job of pointing them areas where the proposed guidelines fall short.

“For children over one year of age, all fruit or vegetable requirements may be fulfilled by serving 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, and while two juices may not be served at the same meal, there’s otherwise no limit on the number of times juice may be served each day.”

And this:

“Children over one year of age may be served flavored milk at every meal, without any limits on sugar content, so long as the flavored milk is fat-free.”

It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This is an article that must be seen; the author has illustrated it with photo montages containing examples of what daycare meals could look like under the proposed guidelines. It’s eye-opening.