Dietary Intakes of Children Enrolled in US Early Child-Care Programs During Child-Care and Non-Child-Care Days

Dietary Intakes of Children Enrolled in US Early Child-Care Programs During Child-Care and Non-Child-Care Days

Published: Jun 01, 2022
Publisher: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 122, issue 6

Meaghan E. Glenn

Kelly Patlan

Patricia Connor

Chantal Stidsen

Sarah Ball

Karen E. Peterson

Lauren E.W. Olsho

Alice Ann H. Gola

Kristen A. Copeland


Early-child-care (ECE) programs may substantially influence child diet quality.


The Study of Nutrition and Activity in Child Care Settings describes the usual food group intake of preschool-aged children attending ECE programs relative to Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendations, comparing intakes during child-care and non-child-care days.


Meal observations and parent-completed food diaries in a cross-sectional nationally representative multistage cluster sample of Child and Adult Care Food Program-participating ECE programs.


One thousand four hundred sixty-eight children aged 3 to 5 years attending 217 Child and Adult Care Food Program-participating ECE programs (eg, child-care centers and Head Start) during 2017.

Main outcome measures

Daily energy intake, daily US Department of Agriculture Food Pattern Food Group intakes, and percentage of daily intakes meeting 2015-2020 DGA Food Pattern recommendations.

Statistical Analyses Performed

Regression-adjusted usual intakes and percentage of children meeting recommendations were estimated using the National Cancer Institute method. Single-day mean intakes were used to test for statistical differences between child-care and non-child-care days.


Mean usual energy intake was 1,524 ± 19.3 kcal during child-care days and exceeded the recommended range at 1,702 ± 30.2 kcal during non-child-care days; single-day means indicated significantly lower energy intake on child-care days (P < 0.001). The percent of children meeting DGA recommendations on a child-care day varied by DGA food group: fruits (51.4%), grains (50.1%), dairy (42.5%), vegetables (6.5%), whole grains (4.6%), and protein foods (0.1%). Recommended limits on calories from added sugar and solid fats were met by 28.2% and 14.6% of children, respectively. Compared with mean food group intakes during a single child-care day, non-child-care day intakes were similar for fruits and vegetables, lower for dairy and whole grains, and higher for total grains, protein foods, and calories from added sugars and solid fats.


Although there is room to increase nutrient density inside and outside of child care, intakes on child-care days more closely align to DGAs.

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