Improving Nutrition

The diets of most children in the United States fail to meet dietary recommendations, placing them at risk for developing obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases. ECE programs provide an important opportunity to influence children's eating habits and health because the majority of preschool-age children receive care outside their homes. ECE providers may influence children’s diets by serving as role models and providing nutritious meals and snacks.

The federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides financial support for food service in ECE programs and regulates the types and quantities of foods served. Many states require (but may not enforce) compliance with CACFP standards in all licensed child care centers. Prior Rudd Center research has shown that compared to non-CACFP settings, CACFP-participating programs serve healthier meals and provide children with better nutrition. CACFP-participating programs are also more likely to use feeding practices that support child nutrition and development, such as family-style serving and positive mealtime teacher behaviors.


Assessing Nutrition Quality in CACFP-Participating Child-Care Centers Prior to Implementation of Revised Meal Patterns

(2015-2017) The primary purpose of this project was to collect survey and observational data on the nutrition environment of CACFP-participating centers prior to implementation of USDA’s revised CACFP meal patterns. This established a baseline measure for future assessment of policy impact and allowed for important comparisons of children’s nutrition in CACFP and non-CACFP settings. The study also assessed food marketing and branding in child care centers, including an online survey of center directors center policies and practices related to food marketing and center visits to assess the presence of food marketing and branding in children’s rooms.

Funded by a grant from Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation..

Nutritional Quality of Foods in Non-CACFP Child Care Centers

(2015-2017) The study collected data in non-CACFP centers in Connecticut via an online survey of center directors, assessment of weekly menus, plate waste and children’s intake of the lunches served, and an online survey of barriers to CACFP participation in CACFP-eligible centers. The study described the food environment in non-CACFP centers that serve many low-income children and compared it to food served and consumed and food practices in CACFP participating centers. Documentation of practices and barriers to healthy changes in non-CACFP centers laid the groundwork for improving the food environment of all licensed centers.

Funded by a grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture.