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Child Obes. 2013 Jun;9(3):223-32. doi: 10.1089/chi.2012.0138. Epub 2013 May 1.

Nutritional quality of meals compared to snacks in child care.

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Division of General and Community Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH 45229, USA.



Most young children are in child care. Previous studies suggest that children may receive insufficient vegetables, and foods and beverages with added sugars, fats, and sodium in these settings. None have compared the nutritional quality of meals to snacks.


Directors from 258 full-day child-care centers in two urban counties of southwestern Ohio were surveyed via telephone in the fall of 2009 about their nutrition practices, and asked to provide a current menu. Lunch and afternoon snack menus were categorized according to average weekly frequency for fruits, vegetables, lean meats, juice (100%), and sweet or salty foods served. Frequencies were compared by meal occasion (lunch vs. snack) using the Fisher exact test.


Most (60%) directors reported serving 2% milk to children ≥3 years; 31% served whole milk. Menu analysis demonstrated the composition of lunches differed from snacks (p<0.0001) in all food categories. A total of 87% centers rarely (<1 time per week) listed nonstarchy vegetables for snacks, but 67% of centers included them at lunch ≥3 times per week. Juice (100%) was on snack menus >2 times per week in 37% centers, but in only 1 center as a regular component of lunch. Similarly, 87% centers listed sweet and salty foods at snack ≥3 times per week, but rarely at lunch.


Despite efforts to improve children's diets in child care, meals-and particularly snacks-still lack whole fruits and nonstarchy vegetables and contain added sugars and fats. Snacks represent a missed opportunity to improve the nutritional quality of foods served in childcare.

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