Young children’s healthy development is dependent on a number of important factors that support physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. In addition to the proven benefits of high-quality early childhood education, health, nutrition and other comprehensive services play a crucial role in preparing young children to thrive in school and life.

Access to healthy, nutritious foods is essential for healthy brain and physical development, but in 2019, 15.36% of children under age 6 in the United States lived in households affected by food insecurity. These rates are higher for households headed by a single parent as well as African Americans and Hispanic families. Healthy children begin with healthy pregnancies. Data shows that poor nutrition creates an intergenerational transmission of poverty as people facing food insecurity during pregnancy are more likely to experience birth complications, and their children are also more likely to experience food insecurity.

Many families face barriers to accessing healthy, nutritious, and age-appropriate foods, and as a result, young children lack essential vitamins and nutrients. The results of poor diets in early childhood can have long-lasting negative effects for children, as well as costly downstream health care investments. Children who experience food insecurity as infants and toddlers are more likely to have lower levels of cognitive and social-emotional skills at kindergarten entry. Food insecurity in the preschool years is also correlated with higher levels of behavior problems and obesity in early childhood and adulthood. Improving nutrition for young children improves health and prevents costly and dangerous public health issues, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

Several federally funded programs help families and early care and education programs meet young children’s nutritional needs, including the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CACFP, created in 1968, is a federal program that provides funds for children in a variety of settings to access the quality nutrition they need to succeed. Children in daycare centers, Head Start classrooms, in-home care, emergency shelters, and after-school programs all benefit from CACFP funding. Each day, CACFP reimbursements provide more than 4.2 million children experiencing food-insecurity with nutritious meals and snacks. CACFP program expenditures were $3 billion in FY2020.

Many providers struggled with declined or temporarily interrupted revenues due to COVID-19 related closures or restrictions. To help aid recovery, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act provided $390 billion to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for FY2021 to remain available through FY2024. Through the CACFP Emergency Operational Costs Reimbursement Program, the FNS offered additional funds to state agencies administering the CACFP program to provide local operators with additional reimbursements for emergency operating costs they incurred during the public health emergency. Emergency funding for CACFP sponsors and providers was equal to 55% of reimbursement loss. 

Approved on June 24, 2022, the bipartisan Keep Kids Fed Act increases CACFP reimbursements by 10 cents for each meal and snack for child care providers and extends the area eligibility waiver allowing family child care homes to receive the highest, Tier 1 level reimbursements through CACFP.

On July 20, 2022 the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act was proposed in the House. If passed, this law would improve CACFP by allowing an additional meal or snack per child to be served and reimbursed, improving reimbursement rate adjustments, decreasing risk in CACFP participation by improving the process when errors are made, and reducing paperwork for families and child care providers.