CACFP Administrative Manual Section 10.1

Section 10.1: Meal Service

Meal Service

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Operators  can provide two types of meal service in the CACFP:

Traditional Meals (preplated)

  • When serving preplated meals, the center staff and Day Care Home (DCH) providers must ensure that all meal components, including milk, are served to each participant at the same time.

Family-Style Meals

  • Each table must be served enough food to provide the required portion of all food components for participants and supervising adults (if the adults eat with the participants) seated at the table.
  • Participants must be allowed to serve all components themselves, with the exception of fluids (i.e., milk and juice).  When supervising adults choose to serve participants fluids, they must provide the minimum quantity as required by the meal pattern.
  • During the course of the meal, it is the responsibility of the supervising adult to actively encourage each participant to accept the required portion of each food component of the meal pattern.
  • Family-style meals provide an opportunity for centers and DCH providers to enhance the meal service by encouraging a pleasant eating environment that supports and promotes mealtime as a learning experience.
  • This approach allows children to identify foods and be introduced to new foods, flavors, and menus.  It also fosters a positive attitude toward nutritious foods, sharing food in a group eating situation, and good eating habits.

Meals served to supervising adults are not reimbursable, however, the costs associated with these adult meals can be charged to the program’s nonprofit food service account.

Offer versus Serve

Offer versus Serve (OVS) is an option that may be used by the following centers:

  • Adult Day Care (ADC) Centers
  • At-risk Afterschool (ARA) Centers
  • School Food Authorities (SFA) may utilize OVS for their school-age (SA) program for children ages five and up if they serve meals prepared by an SFA and utilize the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) meal pattern.
  • CACFP Operators that are vended by an SFA may use OVS, but only for children ages five and up, and only when they utilize the NSLP meal pattern.

OVS applies only to breakfast, lunch, or supper meals.  It is not applicable to snacks.  The price of the reimbursable meal is not affected by this method.

The food components that may be declined differ between the NSLP and CACFP meal patterns.  CACFP Operators must adhere to OVS rules as they pertain to the specific meal pattern.  For guidance on the requirements of OVS under the CACFP meal pattern, please refer to the following resources:  

Charges for Meals

If an agency includes the cost of meals served to participants in the general tuition charge, the agency operates a nonpricing program. Alternatively, if an agency charges a meal fee that is separate from the tuition fee, the agency operates a pricing program.

Both program types may participate in the CACFP; however, agencies that operate a pricing program must meet the following conditions:

  • Use the actual count claiming method. Refer to Section 5.1 for more information.

Meal Times and Spacing

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) CACFP Branch strongly encourages CACFP Operators to serve each meal during the part of the day that is considered appropriate and conventional for each meal served.  The CACFP Branch recommends that CACFP Operators serve meals within the ranges listed below:

Breakfast:  no later than 9:00 a.m.
Lunch:  11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Supper:  5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

SA centers may claim up to two meals and one snack or two snacks and one meal, per child, per day.  SA centers may serve breakfast, snack, and supper while school is in session.  They may be eligible to serve lunches to enrolled children during periods of school vacation, including weekends and holidays, and to children attending schools which do not offer a lunch program.

When an CACFP Operator serves a snack between meals, a minimum of two hours must elapse between the beginning of one service and the beginning of the next (i.e., between the beginning of breakfast and the beginning of a morning snack).  However, when snacks are not served between meals, a minimum of three hours must elapse between the beginning of one meal and the next.  Infants (up to one year of age) must be served at a time consistent with the meal schedule. 

In some cases, CACFP Operators may serve meals and snacks to multiple sets of children throughout the day.  If this is the case, CACFP Operator must note that they have shifts of care on their CNIPS application.  For further guidance, please contact your CACFP Specialist.  A list of program specialists by county can be found on the CACFP Contact List web page.

Meal Duration

While there is no current federal or state requirement for the amount of time allotted for breakfast and lunch meal periods, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends ensuring that students have at least 20 minutes to eat lunch once they are seated.

The CDSS CACFP Branch strongly encourages CACFP Operators to ensure their child and adult participants have adequate time to eat after being served in order to maximize the nutritional benefits of the meal pattern.


Reference: 7 CFR, sections 226.7(m)(2), 226.20(p), and 226.23(e); USDA Policy Memo CACFP SP 09-2013, CACFP 04-2013 Streamlining Child and Adult Care Food Program At-risk Afterschool Meal Participation for School Food Authorities; USDA Policy Memo CACFP 05-2017 Offer versus Serve and Family Style Meals in the CACFP


This institution is an equal opportunity provider.
Esta institución es un proveedor que ofrece igualdad de oportunidades.

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CDSS Child and Adult Care Food Program
744 P Street, MS 9-13-290
Sacramento, CA 95814

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