Two divisions administer USDA’s primary ECE related programs.
Food and Nutrition Service (FNS):
FNS provides funding to states to administer the and reimburse ECE facilities for eligible meals and snacks served. To receive reimbursement, ECE facilities must meet CACFP nutrition standards. The CACFP program educates providers in meal planning and preparation, nutrition, and food safety. FNS provides funding and a wide variety of food service and nutrition education tools for state agencies, schools, and ECE facilities to promote the nutrition, physical activity, and health of children through:
- Team Nutrition Training Grants support state and community level efforts to promote healthy nutrition, nutrition education, and physical activity which can focus on ECE facilities participating in CACFP. State agencies are encouraged to apply for grants to provide technical assistance and training to sponsoring organizations and ECE facilities.
- Healthy Meals Resource System: An online information center, which includes a CACFP Wellness Resource Center containing resources to help CACFP providers promote health and wellness in child care through nutrition, physical activity and limited electronic media use.
- National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI): Publishes nutrition resources in English and Spanish to support CACFP, including the Mealtime Memo for Child Care for family day care providers. Each month, the Mealtime Memo addresses a different nutrition or nutrition education topic, such as healthful eating or gardening with young children.
- CACFP Wellness Grants: Between 2010 – 2013, the CACFP Wellness Grants provided more than $7.7 million to 14 state agencies to support initiatives that promote health and nutrition improvements in ECE settings.
FNS also provides funding to states to administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which includes SNAP-Ed, a nutrition education and obesity prevention grant program that provides funding that states can use for policy and environmental change interventions in the ECE setting, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The WIC program provides education, resource referrals, and electronic vouchers for food to low-income mothers and their young children. Breastfeeding support and nutrition education resources are two key areas for collaboration between ECE and WIC programs.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers:
- Cooperative Extension Service: A nationwide, non-credit educational system staffed by experts through each state’s land-grant university and a network of local or regional offices. Through Cooperative Extension, NIFA provides funding for land-grant universities to conduct research, education, and extension programs for a variety of topics, including ECE. Many Cooperative Extension programs provide training to ECE providers and staff to improve nutrition and physical activity-related behaviors. The ECE resources of the land-grant universities are connected to parents, health professionals, and the public via the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care initiative. eXtension is an interactive learning environment with a variety of resources, including an extensive searchable hands-on activites database and a “Community of Practice” program, which offers ECE providers direct support and assistance from experts.