The Not-So-Sweet Truth About Sugar: What you need to know about the CACFP sugar guidelines for cereal and yogurt

The Not-So-Sweet Truth About Sugar: What you need to know about the CACFP sugar guidelines for cereal and yogurt

We’ve all seen it. Many have experienced it firsthand. Johnny begs and pleads with Mom for just one sweet treat.  Johnny’s pleas are relentless - Mom’s resolve wanes. Worn down, Mom finally concedes, and thirty minutes later Johnny is bouncing off the walls! Mom is angry and frustrated with Johnny, but more so, with herself.

Yes, Mom needs to work on her parenting skills and establishing boundaries, but that is a topic for another time. Our focus today is on the now wildly bouncing bundle of energy that was once a boy named Johnny.

As a childcare provider you absolutely want to avoid creating a room full of sugar-amped Johnnys and Janes. Nothing good can come of that. Even more critical than the potential negative behavior issues of too much sugar consumption is the potential for negative, long-term physical issues.  Issues that can impact the physical health of each child in your care – some for a lifetime.

Sugar Limits in Yogurt & Cereal

Download the cheat sheet reference PDF

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    Long Term Issues of Sugar Consumption in Kids

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that eating and drinking too much added sugar puts kids at risk for obesity, tooth decay, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, among other health problems.[1] And these are even more devastating when they develop in a child.  Clearly, each of these potential risks is dangerous to a person’s overall health, but obesity can magnify each of the other health risks. Not to mention the serious psychological impact of obesity.

    An interesting long-term study conducted by the CDC from the years 1963 to 2018 looked at the percentage of American children, aged 2 years to 19 years of age who were considered obese.[2] Not surprisingly, over the past sixty years the percentage of US children who are considered obese has increased significantly - nearly tripled! In 1971[3] only 5% of US children aged 2 to 5 years old were considered obese. In 1999, that percentage had more than doubled to 11%! The percentage then peaked in 2004 at a staggering 13.9% - nearly triple the initial study percentages! There was, however, a slight decrease with the most recently reported (2020) percentage being 12.7%.

    The CDC report is merely statistical in nature and does not go further to suggest the cause or causes of these increases. So, what could be causing such dramatic up-ticks in the percentages of obesity in our children?

    Why the surge of obesity?

    There are several major shifts that have occurred in the US over the past sixty years – socio-economical and technological changes for example, but let’s keep our focus narrowed to the changes in food availability and production during that period.

    We know that the availability of processed foods which typically contain added sugar has dramatically increased in the US over the past 60 years. The popularity of these food items is so great that not just processed food, such as cheese, canned fish, and canned beans, but **ultra-processed foods such as frozen pizza, soda, fast food, sweets, salty snacks, canned soup, and most breakfast cereals currently make up 73% of the US food supply [4]

    Let that sink in for a moment.

    What does that mean for you as a childcare provider?

    You truly want to provide low-sugar, nutritional foods for your crew meaning your menu-planning skills need to be sharp! With all the other responsibilities that go into running a successful childcare business, who has the time to do extra research? All those ultra-processed foods with the added sugar are not just tasty, they are also “ultra-convenient” making them a tempting choice for a busy care provider.


    USDA and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) have responded to these alarming increases in child obesity rates by placing limits on the amount of sugar in cereals and yogurts that are served to children in the program. This is a good thing! The manufacturers of these foods NEED to be socially responsible and do a better job with their products, but that is not likely to happen. In lieu of that, the CACFP and USDA have teamed up to provide easy-to-understand and user-friendly meal-planning worksheets.

    These very informative and helpful worksheets linked below can make your low-sugar, nutritional meal-planning duties much easier. Invest a few extra minutes initially reviewing the worksheets, then apply those concepts to your meal-planning tasks.

    We at The Kid Menus have taken it a step further and modified these already great resources to place the sugar limit charts for BOTH cereal and yogurt on one sheet, and the sugar limit calculation steps for BOTH cereal and yogurt on a separate sheet. We realize that some of our brains prefer charts, and others prefer to perform the calculations.

    We do include a low-sugar, whole grain breakfast cereal in The Kid Menus about once per month. We make sure to recommend a cereal that meets all CACFP requirements. We’ve compiled a list of CACFP creditable cereals you can view below. We always recommend that you purchase low-sugar yogurt (LS), no matter what brand you are purchasing.

    CACFP Cereal List

    Top CACFP-Approved Cereals with links and photos

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      Remember, the future of the children in your care is in your hands. Make it a healthy one!




      [1] According to Northeastern University's Network Science Institute, June 23,2023

      [2] Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Afful J. Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and severe obesity among children and adolescents aged 2–19 years: United States, 1963–1965 through 2017–2018. NCHS Health E-Stats. 2020

      [3] Testing of the youngest age bracket of children did not begin with the initial start of this CDC study - it began approximately 8 years later in 1971.

      [4] According to Northeastern University's Network Science Institute, June 23,2023

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