Each program must design and carry out nutrition services that are culturally and developmentally appropriate. Nutrition services must also meet the nutritional needs and feeding requirements of each child, including children with identified nutritional needs, children with disabilities, and children who have special diets due to religious and family preferences such as kosher or halal meals.
Programs also set up procedures for caring for children with food allergies. These procedures include emergency plans. Staff must document all food allergies and learn about symptoms and how to respond to allergic reactions. Programs must display individual child food allergies prominently for staff wherever food is served. Health managers can read the Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to learn more.
State and territorial agencies such as a department of education or department of agriculture are the link between USDA FNS and local programs. These agencies make sure programs are managed according to federal requirements. Correct recordkeeping and proper documentation are extremely important when taking part in an FNS Child Nutrition Program because they are the basis for all claims for reimbursement, audits, and administrative reviews. State and territorial contacts are on the USDA FNS map.
A program must serve meals and snacks that meet USDA dietary patterns and are high in nutrients and low in fat, sugar, and salt. Head Start and Early Head Start programs serving meals and snacks can use USDA resources to develop menus, choose recipes, train staff, educate families, and buy and prepare foods.
Programs must also have policies and procedures to make sure they prepare foods safely. Anyone can get food poisoning, but children younger than 5 are more likely to get very sick from food poisoning. A young child’s immune system is still developing, so their body’s ability to fight germs and sickness isn’t as strong. Any food service facility must follow food safety and sanitation regulations. Some examples include:
- The sinks used for food preparation should not be used for any other purposes such as hand-washing, diaper changing, or mop washing.
- Checking the temperatures of refrigerators and freezers with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at 40 F or below and the freezer at 0 F or below.
- Always refrigerating perishable food within two hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90 F).
- Making sure to wrap perishable food, such as meat and poultry, securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices from contaminating other food.
- Cooking or freezing fresh poultry, fish, and ground meat within two days; cooking or freezing other beef, veal, lamb, or pork within three to five days.
- In general, canned high-acid foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and pineapple can be stored for 12 to 18 months. Canned low-acid foods such as meat, poultry, fish, and most vegetables can be stored for two to five years if the can stays in good condition and has been kept in a cool, clean, and dry place. Cans that are dented, leaking, bulging, or rusted should be thrown out.
Tips and Strategies about Nutrition Services and Safe Food Handling
- Learn about the religious and other dietary preferences of the families in your program.
- Work with nutrition professionals to develop plans for children with allergies and special nutritional needs, and train all staff about food allergies and emergency procedures for any child who has an allergic reaction.
- Review documentation and recordkeeping about food service.
- Make sure staff are trained (and certified if required) in safe food handling.
- Food Buying Guide
- Caring for Our Children
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety
Audience: Directors and Managers
Last Updated: October 31, 2023