Mealtime Memo – October 2021

October 2021 Mealtime Memo

CACFP Best Practice – Eat Better, Eat Together

Did you know that serving meals family style can increase a child’s confidence? This is only ONE benefit of family style meal service.

Family style meal service is when children serve themselves food and beverages from communal bowls, platters, and pitchers with the assistance from supervising adults, if needed. Teachers and children eat meals and snacks together. Eating together encourages learning and development at the table and away from the table. Cooperation, conversation, and independence are additional benefits, along with improved motor skills, expanded social skills, and learning table manners.

Children can learn skills such as:

  • Taking turns, sharing, and teamwork
  • Appropriate use of utensils
  • How to set and clear the table
  • Identifying healthy foods and where they come from
  • Learning portion sizes for each food group
  • Recognizing when they are hungry and satisfied

Refer to this Family Style Meal Service Handout for guidance on incorporating it in your program. You can offer some or all family meal service components based on what is possible and practical for your operation.

Tips for Implementing Family Style Meal Service

  • Start with the right equipment. When purchasing serving dishes, utensils, and other place settings, choose child-friendly items sized for little hands to use.
  • Remember each child’s skill level when choosing your menu. Finger foods and foods that are easy to pick up with a child-size fork or spoon are easiest for younger children to self-serve.
  • Give each child a task to help set the table. Some tasks may include setting the table. For example, set the plates, place the cups, hand out the napkins, etc. Children have a sense of pride and belonging when they have a contributing role.
  • Have multiple sets of utensils and serving spoons in case of accidental drops.
  • Offer a variety of familiar foods and don’t forget to introduce new foods. Children are more willing to try something new when they serve themselves.
  • Reserve extra servings for second helpings or in case the bowl gets contaminated.
  • Provide a trash can for children to scrape their plates and help with clean up.
  • Keep cleaning supplies nearby, and practice patience and understanding when accidents happen.
  • Eat with your children. Be a good role model!

ICN features many trainings and resources focused on family style meal service. Visit for these and other free Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) resources.

It’s important to note that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, special precautions may be necessary to ensure meals are served safely using family style meal service and other meal service methods. Check with your State or local regulatory agency to determine any requirements for serving meals in your program. In addition, USDA acknowledges meal flexibility and the need to serve meals safely, and is offering these state waivers. Contact your State agency, sponsoring agency, or ICN’s Help Desk for additional information on waivers.

October Food Themes

Six-year-old Hispanic boy holding a taco, isolated on white backgroundNational Taco Day – October 4th

Did you know that Americans ate more than 4.5 billion tacos last year? Tacos have become widely popular and are made in a variety of ways.

Toppings are a great way to Eat Better, Eat Together. Taco toppings may include cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, or onions. The variations are endless. See how many different colors of the rainbow (in fruits and vegetables) you could offer for tacos. Have a taco bar day with an assortment of toppings that children can choose from at the table.

Try USDA’s Chicken or Turkey Taco recipe from the Child Nutrition Recipe Box.

National Farmer’s Day – October 12th

The vision for the Farm to Early Care and Education Initiative is to create healthy habits for our youngest eaters. On National Farmer’s Day, discuss where and how food is grown.

Mature farm worker collecting tomatoes from garden.Ideas for National Farmer’s Day

  • Visit a farm using appropriate safety measures during COVID-19.
  • Invite a farmer to visit your classroom using appropriate safety measures during COVID-19.
  • Ask for free samples from local growers.
  • Provide samples of farm produce for children to see, touch, and taste.
  • Incorporate nutrition education by discussing the different vitamins and minerals found in various produce.
  • Plant seeds in paper cups. Help children monitor their growth.

Discussion Prompts for Preschoolers on National Farmer’s Day

  • What is your idea of a farmer?
  • What kind of foods do farmers grow?
  • Have you visited a farm?
  • What is your favorite food that comes from a farm?

Suggested Books About Farmers and Food

  • Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson
  • Max Goes to the Farmers’ Market by Adria Klein
  • Right This Very Minute: A Table-to-Farm Book About Food and Farming by Lisl H. Detlefsen

National Pasta Day – October 17th

Did you know that there are more than 600 different
shapes of pasta?

Serve pasta dishes with various toppings, such as parmesan cheese, meatballs, vegetables, marinara, and several herbs (such as parsley or basil), or consider creating a pasta bar where children can top their pasta to their liking.

Try this USDA Pasta Salad recipe.

Suggested Books About Pasta

  • Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
  • The Great Pasta Escape by Miranda Paul
  • On Top of Spaghetti by Tom Glazer

National Pumpkin Day – October 26th

What perfect timing with fall harvest and Halloween! Pumpkin has a range of health benefits, including a source of beta-carotene, vitamin A, and fiber. Beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing cancer, offers protection against asthma and heart disease, and helps keep your eyes healthy.

A 5 year old Hispanic boy playing in a pumpkin patch. He is surrounded by pumpkins, looking at the camera, laughing and shouting.

Coordinate National Farmer’s Day with National Pumpkin Day for many opportunities to discuss health, eating, and learning all month long.

Try these USDA Pumpkin Muffin Squares.

Including mandarin or clementine “pumpkins” into your menu is a great way to celebrate National Pumpkin Day. Peel mandarin or clementine oranges and add a piece of celery stalk to the top of the mandarin for the perfect personal-size “pumpkin” for your children to eat.

Suggested Books About Pumpkins

  • The Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Jane E. Gerver and Steven Kroll
  • How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara
  • Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White

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National Potato Day – October 27th

Potatoes are a form of starchy vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are also a good source of fiber, which aids in digestion. Potatoes are easily grown and can be used in a variety of dishes. They can be served baked, grilled, au gratin, scalloped, roasted, fried, mashed, or in soups.

Potatoes are grown in every state in the U.S. and in about 125 countries throughout the world. They are 80% water and were the first vegetable grown in outer space! The heaviest spud ever recorded weighed 10 pounds 14 ounces. The average American consumes about 125 pounds of potatoes per year.

Celebrate National Potato Day with a potato bar highlighting different toppings like cheese, vegetables, and proteins.

Try USDA’s Veggie Mash-Up for a fun spin on vegetables. Irio, a simple dish of mashed potatoes, corn, and green vegetables, is a traditional Kenyan dish. This delicious version of the recipe uses vegetables that are commonly available in the United States.

Halloween – October 31st

“Trick” with some healthy “treats”! We can find healthy ways to celebrate Halloween. Keep the theme of Eat Better, Eat Together in focus for the best October ever. Children love to express their creative side through activities and food. Halloween provides endless opportunities for this. Here are some tips for incorporating healthy food with spooky arts and crafts.

These books are great to read during Halloween festivities. Reading stories with Halloween snacks is a great way to Eat Better, Eat Together this month.

  • Trick or Treat? By Bill Martin, Jr.
  • Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat by Eileen Christelow
  • The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat by Stan Berenstain & Jan Berenstain

Frankenstein Smoothies

A green smoothie served in a clear cup that looks like Frankenstein will have children excited to give the nutrient-rich drink a try. Draw a Frankenstein face on the cup with a sharpie, or even glue googly eyes to the cup and decorate around it. Add some dried fruit on top for Frankenstein’s “hair.” Frankenstein Smoothies are a great way to get the children to eat their greens and have fun, too.

Try this Simple Green Smoothie recipe from USDA MyPlate.

Banana Ghosts

All you need are bananas (cut in half) and mini chocolate chips for this treat. Place the chocolate chips in the shape of a ghost face on one side of the peeled banana and stick them in the freezer (optional: add a wooden stick in the banana). Once frozen, the bananas will resemble the texture of ice cream, and the children will have a spooky and healthy treat!

What’s in Season in October?

There are many fruits and vegetables in season during October to include in the Eat Better, Eat Together theme. Shop for these wonderful fall harvest produce. Be sure to have them on your menu and highlight all the health benefits of eating the rainbow.



  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Pineapple


  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Butternut Squash
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Cranberries
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Pumpkin
  • Rutabagas
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes

Fun Food Facts

  • The largest tomato weighed nearly 11 pounds, according to the Guinness World Records.
  • The heaviest pumpkin ever grown weighed 2,624.6 pounds—heavier than some small cars.
  • Bananas consist of more than 75% water and are rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Each pumpkin has about 500 seeds.

Food Jokes

  • When potatoes have babies, what are they called?
    • Answer: Tater tots
  • When do you go at red and stop at green?
    • Answer: When you’re eating a watermelon
  • Why shouldn’t you tell a secret on a farm?
    • Answer: Because the potatoes have eyes and the corn have ears
  • What is twins’ favorite fruit?
    • Answer: Pear!

Sneak Peak: November Food Themes

  • National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month
  • National Fig Week (November 1st–7th)
  • National Sandwich Day (November 3rd)
  • National Nachos Day (November 6th)
  • National Greek Yogurt Day (November 9th)
  • World Kindness Day (November 13th)
  • Take a Hike Day (November 17th)
  • Eat a Cranberry Day (November 23rd)


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Childhood nutrition facts.

Garden Guide. (2017, September 21). How many seeds are in an average pumpkin?

Guinness World Records. (2016). Heaviest pumpkin.

Guinness World Records. (2020). Heaviest tomato.

Idaho Potato Museum. (2021). Potato facts.

Institute of Child Nutrition, Child Nutrition Recipe Box. (2021). Chicken or turkey taco – USDA recipe for child care centers.

Institute of Child Nutrition, Child Nutrition Recipe Box. (2021). Pasta salad – USDA recipe for child care centers.

Institute of Child Nutrition, Child Nutrition Recipe Box. (2021). Pumpkin muffin squares – USDA recipe for child care centers.

Institute of Child Nutrition, Child Nutrition Recipe Box. (2021). Veggie mash-up – USDA recipe for child care centers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, MyPlate. (n.d.). Simple green smoothie.

About Mealtime Memo

Mealtime Memo (MTM) is focused on nutrition and wellness in child care settings and is specifically intended for use by child care professionals who participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The objective is to provide research-based best practices for planning, preparing, and/or serving nutritious, safe, and child-friendly meals in child care settings operating the CACFP.

Beginning in January 2021, the MTM moved to an electronic, blog-style newsletter. To ensure you automatically receive the latest issue, click here to subscribe!

Please note: To ensure MTMs provide the most accurate, up-to-date information, any references to Federal regulations, nutritional standards, and other best practices are considered current at the time of publication. Please be advised that this information is NOT updated to reflect any changes/revisions beyond the publication date. In addition, all MTMs published prior to 2017 have been archived and are no longer available on our website. If you need access to an archived MTM or for questions on the latest regulations and standards, please contact ICN’s Help Desk at helpdesk@mealtime.local or 1-800-321-3054.

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2023-11-02T12:26:06-05:00November 8th, 2021|

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