Special Diets in CACFP Child Care Programs

What's Next

Developing Policies for Special Diets in the CACFP  |   Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Resources for Developing and Implementing Policies

Developing Policies for Meal Modifications

Written policies for meal modifications are important because they:

  • provide clear guidelines for children, families, and school staff;
  • ensure consistent practices at all sites and among all staff;
  • document compliance with federal and state requirements and best practices;
  • educate families regarding the child care program's practices and procedures;
  • provide a basis to evaluate program activities and staff; and
  • demonstrate the child care program's commitment to children’s health and well-being.

The strategies below can assist CACFP facilities with policy development. Priority areas include assessing current operations, developing standard operating procedures (SOPs), providing staff training, and ensuring consistent communication.

  • Identify the staff and resources needed for planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating the policy and SOPs for modifications to CACFP meals and snacks..
  • Conduct a self-assessment of the CACFP facility’s current policies, practices, and procedures for modifications to CACFP meals and snacks. For more information, see the CSDE’s document, Self-assessment of Child Care Practices for Meal Modifications in the CACFP.
  • Identify the essential practices to implement in the food service program and the child care environment, and determine where SOPs are necessary.
  • Develop an action plan to address the practices needing attention, as identified by the CACFP facility’s completed self-assessment. When developing action plans for policy and SOPs, start with the most important practices. The CSDE’s action planning form and sample action plans can assist with this process.
  • Develop SOPs by writing down the actual steps taken when performing the specific task. When using sample SOPs from organizations or other child care programs, be sure to customize the information so it is specific to the local CACFP facility. 
  • Identify the training needs of CACFP facility staff, and appropriate professional development on meal modifications for children with special dietary needs.
  • Provide annual and ongoing training for food service staff and other child care staff, as appropriate.
  • Identify effective communication strategies among CACFP facility staff, and between the CACFP facility and parents or guardians, to ensure that everyone is aware of the CACFP facility’s policy and SOPs for meal modifications. Incorporate these strategies into the SOPs, and provide staff training and guidance on how to implement them.
  • Implement monitoring procedures to ensure that meal modifications are reasonable, appropriate, and meet each child’s specific dietary needs; and that all staff responsible for planning, preparing, and serving meals and snacks consistently follow the CACFP facility’s policy and SOPs for meal modifications. Review the policy and SOPs for meal modifications at least annually, and make changes as needed.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

SOPs are detailed explanations of how to implement a policy through specific practices or tasks. They standardize the process and provide step-by-step instructions that enable everyone to perform the task in a consistent manner. This ensures that all school staff follows the same procedures each time. Potential SOPs for meal modifications include:  

  • preparing foods for different types of special diets, such as texture modifications, food allergies, celiac disease, and diabetes;
  • reviewing menus, reading food labels, and making nutrition information available to children (when age appropriate), parents or guardians, recognized medical authorities, and other appropriate staff, as needed;
  • cleaning to prevent cross-contact of possible allergens;  
  • handwashing to prevent cross-contact of possible food allergens; and
  • ensuring that CACFP facility staff and food service staff regularly communicate and collaborate regarding the planning and implementation of meal
  • modifications for children whose disability restricts their diet;
  • obtaining consultation services (such as a registered dietitian), as needed, to plan meals and snacks for children whose disability restricts their diet; and 
  • training for food service staff and all applicable CACFP facility staff (including substitutes) involved with planning, preparing, and serving CACFP meals and snacks.

The sample SOPs below were developed for schools, but provide applicable examples and guidance that can be adapted for child care settings.

Resources for Developing and Implementing Policies