Updated Position of the Academy: Encourage Healthful Eating in Child Care Programs

September 18, 2018

CHICAGO –Early care and education programs should meet children's nutrition needs and promote their optimal growth in safe and healthy environments, according to an updated position paper published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Children in child care are more likely to eat familiar foods consistent with foods provided at home," said registered dietitian nutritionist Sara E. Benjamin-Neelon, who wrote the Academy's position paper. "Often these foods are based on cultural and religious food preferences. Parents should talk with child care providers about serving their children culturally relevant foods that are familiar to them as well as healthful."

The updated position paper, "Benchmarks for Nutrition in Child Care," was published in July in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that early care and education programs should achieve recommended benchmarks to meet children's nutrition needs and promote children’s optimal growth in safe and healthy environments.

The paper updates the Academy's 2011 position by including expanded national recommendations, research literature and policy efforts.

"The field of nutrition research in early child care and education has grown considerably in the past few years and is continuing to expand," Benjamin-Neelon said. "Registered dietitian nutritionists and nutrition and dietetics technicians, registered can help disseminate research findings to ensure that children have access to healthy foods in early child care programs."

Benjamin-Neelon notes the public's increasing desire for child care programs to serve fruits and vegetables. A number of states and organizations have started programs to connect children with local farmers and get them involved in creating preschool gardens and visiting farmers markets.

New federal policy is also requiring more healthy foods in child care. Starting in October 2017, child care programs that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Child and Adult Care Food Program are required to serve a greater variety of healthful foods. Some requirements include decreasing the amount of pre-fried foods, processed meats, sweet crackers and grain-based desserts.

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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation's health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at eatright.org.