Nutrition practices and mealtime environments of North Carolina child care centers

Sara E. Benjamin Neelon, Amber Vaughn, Sarah C. Ball, Christina McWilliams, Dianne S. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Background: The majority of children in the United States attend out-of-home child care. However, little is known about the nutritional quality of foods served and the mealtime environments. Methods: We assessed 96 child care centers over one full day using a researcher-administered structured observation and document review. We focused on eight nutrition domains: (1) fruits and vegetables, (2) whole grains, (3) high-sugar, high-salt, and high-fat foods, (4) beverages, (5) food availability and service, (6) staff behaviors, (7) training and education, and (8) policies. We computed daily means and frequencies for each domain. Results: Seventy-five percent of centers participated in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, indicating they served lowincome children. Centers enrolled 66 children on average; 60% were white, 28% were black, 4% were Native American, and 8% identified as mixed race. On the day of observation, seven centers did not serve a fruit and 15 did not serve a vegetable. Eighty centers served a high-sugar or high-salt food and 84 did not serve any whole grains. Five centers did not provide water indoors to children, 22 served juice twice, and 50 served whole milk. Seventeen centers had a vending machine on site visible to parents and children. Overall, children were served excessive juice, high-sugar and high-salt snack foods, and too much whole milk. Conclusions: Centers had room for improvement and could strive to serve more nutritious foods and create healthier mealtime environments for children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)216-223
Number of pages8
JournalChildhood Obesity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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