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Introduction

Communication is important with food service vendors

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Communication is important with food service vendors

More and more child and adult care centers are contracting with food service vendors or schools to prepare some or all of the meals served at their centers. Many factors contribute to the decision to contract for meals. Lack of adequate meal preparation facilities, cost and convenience are just a few of the reasons centers contract for meals.

Just because a center contracts for meals, this does not eliminate the responsibility of complying with regulations governing the Child and Adult Care Food Program. It is important for center personnel to be familiar with the meal pattern requirements of the CACFP to assure that children and adult participants are served creditable and reimbursable meals. Remember – if your contractor does not provide a creditable meal you may not claim reimbursement if the meal pattern is not met.

During compliance reviews, our staff occasionally finds contracted meals that do not meet the meal pattern requirement. Deductions are made for these meals. By being aware of the CACFP meal pattern requirements and communicating with your contractor, you can avoid these deductions. The standard food service contract provided by Nutrition Services stipulates that the contractee will NOT pay for meals that do not meet meal pattern requirements or that have been disallowed for reimbursement by state agency or federal reviewers.

Q: What should I do if the meal delivered by my contractor does not meet CACFP meal pattern requirements?

A: Notify your contact person at the food service management company/school immediately that the meal does not meet CACFP meal pattern requirements. If time allows, the contractor may be able to provide the necessary component(s) for a reimbursable meal. If the contractor is not able to provide the required component(s), your center does NOT have to pay for that meal. It’s a good idea to notify your contractor in writing of the date of the meal service and the deficiencies in the meal provided. Include a statement that the center will not pay for meals that do not meet CACFP meal pattern requirements, as per your contract. You may not claim incomplete meals for reimbursement.

Q: Can I claim the meal for reimbursement if I supplement a deficient contracted meal with foods on hand at my center?

A: Yes, if the meal pattern requirements are met for all food components. Recently a reviewer from our staff encountered a situation during a compliance review where the contractor had delivered the meal to the center, but dropped an entire tray of cornbread during the delivery. The contractor did not have enough cornbread to complete the meal. For illustration purposes, let’s say the contractor provided 75 meals that met the meal pattern requirements and 25 that did not. The center was not obligated to pay the contractor for the number of meals that were not provided by the contractor – in this example, 25. The center had several loaves of bread on hand, which were served to the children who did not receive cornbread. Therefore, all of the meals were eligible to be claimed for reimbursement.

Q: My center is in a small community. The contractor is the only viable source for meals in this town. I don’t want them to get mad at me if I say I’m not going to pay for the meals. What can I do?

A: It’s important that you and your contractor have an understanding of the federal regulations and requirements of the contract up front. Make sure that the contractor has a copy of the federal regulations which specify the meal pattern requirements , a copy of the Food Chart, and the resource book Crediting Foods in the Child and Adult Care Food Program . Contact Nutrition Services if you need additional copies of these resources. Agree to a month’s worth of menus or a set of cycle menus up front. Point out to the contractor before the contract is signed that you are not able to pay for meals that do not meet the meal pattern requirement. You may want to arrange for the contractor to supply extra bread and canned fruits and vegetables for you to have on hand as a back-up, in case a component might be overlooked and not delivered. The main thing is to make sure that you and your contractor have agreed to this in the beginning – before any potential problems may arise. Your responsibility is to provide a reimbursable meal for the participants at your center.

Q: What does the contractor have to do for CACFP paperwork?

A: The contractor must maintain records to document food production and other obligations the contractee (the center) may need to meet its CACFP responsibilities under 7 CFR 226.6(i)(5). These records must be available for inspection and/or audit by representatives of the Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. General Accounting Office and the USDA Office of Inspector General. These records must be retained for a period of three years from the date of receipt of final payment under the contract, or in cases where an audit remains unresolved, until such time as the audit is resolved. The contractor is not required to use the production records required by Nutrition Services for centers preparing their own meals.

Q: What if the contractor delivers food that is spoiled or otherwise unfit to serve?

A: By all means, do NOT serve any unwholesome foods to your participants. The center has the right to inspect and determine the quality of food delivered and reject any meals which do no comply with the requirements and specifications of the contract. The contractor shall not be paid for unauthorized menu changes, incomplete meals, meals not delivered within the specified delivery time period, meals which are spoiled or unwholesome at the time of delivery, potentially hazardous foods delivered between the temperature of 45 F – 140 F, and meals rejected because they do not comply with the specifications. The center shall notify the contractor in writing as to the number of meals rejected and the reasons for the rejection.

Q: Can the Department of Education intervene if I have problems with my contractor?

A: No. The Department of Education does not have an agreement with the contractor, only with participating institutions. It is your responsibility to resolve any problems you have with your contractor. The food service contracts may be terminated by either party upon submission to the other party of written notice at least 30 days prior to the date of termination. A copy of the termination letter must be sent to the Department of Education.

If you have specific questions regarding your food service contract, contact Nutrition Services toll free at (800) 731-2233 or (402) 471-2488 in Lincoln.

Family style meal service

Family style meal service

Instruction 783-9, Revision 2

The USDA Mountain Plains Regional Office issued a revised instruction regarding family style meal service in the Child and Adult Care Food Program. The changes in items 2 and 3 are meant to encourage, support and promote meal time as a pleasant learning experience in all child and adult care facilities and institutions. The primary changes are that participants are initially to be offered the full amounts of foods and supervising adults should continue to actively encourage full portions to participants as necessary. Adults were omitted from the instruction and it is meant to apply to both adults and children.


The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) has long been recognized for its nutritional goals of providing nutritious meals to children and helping them establish good eating habits at a young age. Family style meal service provides a further opportunity to enhance these goals by encouraging a pleasant eating environment that will support and promote meal time as a learning experience.

Family style is a type of meal service which allows children to serve themselves from common platters of food with assistance from supervising adults setting the example. In A Planning Guide for Food Service in Child Care Centers, the chapter, “Make Meal Time a Happy Time,” provides guidance for family style meal service in the CACFP. Family style meal service encourages supervising adults to set a personal example and provide educational activities that are centered around foods. This approach allows children to identify, and be introduced to new foods, new tastes, and new menus, while developing a positive attitude toward nutritious foods, sharing in group eating situations, and developing good eating habits.

Unlike cafeteria lines, unitized meals and preset service, the family style method affords some latitude in the size of initial servings because replenishment is immediately available at each table. Even when a complete family style service is not possible or practical, it may be useful to offer a component or components in a family style manner particularly when smaller children are being served or when a new food item is being introduced. This latitude must be exercised in compliance with the following practices, at a minimum.

1) A sufficient amount of prepared food must be placed on each table to provide the full required portions (226.20) of each of the food components for all children at the table, and to accommodate supervising adult(s) if they eat with the children.

2) The family style meal service allows children to make choices in selecting foods and the size of the initial servings. Children should initially be offered the full required portion of each meal component.

3) During the course of the meal, it is the responsibility of the supervising adults to actively encourage each child to accept service of the full required portion for each food component of the meal pattern. For example, if a child initially refuses a food component, or initially does not accept the full required portion of a meal component, the supervising adult should offer the food component to the child again.

4) Institutions which use family style meal service may not claim second meals for reimbursement.

5) Meals served which follow the guidelines laid out in this instruction are eligible for reimbursement.