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Homes Away from Home: Child-Care Providers Should Meet "Benchmark" Standards to Promote Healthful Eating, According to American Dietetic Association


Media Contacts: Ryan O'Malley, Allison MacMunn
800/877-1600, ext. 4769, 4802

CHICAGO – Child-care programs often serve as homes away from home, and providers of child care play an important role in shaping the health of our nation’s children. The American Dietetic Association believes health professionals including registered dietitians should work in partnership with child-care providers and families to ensure children consume nutritious foods and are provided with models of healthful eating and active lifestyles.

To provide guidance for health professionals, especially in caring for children ages 2 to 5 years, ADA has published an updated position paper on “Benchmarks for Nutrition in Child Care,” containing ADA’s official stance on the issue, in the April Journal of the American Dietetic Association:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that child-care programs should achieve recommended benchmarks for meeting children’s nutrition needs in a safe, sanitary and supportive environment that promotes optimal growth and development.

ADA’s position paper was written by registered dietitians Sara E. Benjamin Neelon, assistant professor in the departments of pediatrics and community and family medicine at Duke University; and Margaret E. Briley, professor in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Texas – Austin.

Achieving recommended benchmarks for nutrition in child-care programs “is an important public health

priority, and food and nutrition practitioners can play a key role in that charge,” the authors write. ADA’s position paper provides guidance for developing child-care benchmarks in areas such as nutritional quality of foods and beverages; menus; portion sizes; food preparation and service; physical and social environment; nutrition training; nutrition consultation; physical activity and active play; and working with families.

“Food and nutrition practitioners can play a powerful role in advocating for these nutrition benchmarks and can include families, child-care providers, foodservice personnel, health professionals and policymakers to promote the overall health of children in child care,” the authors write.

Child care has become increasingly common “and is now the norm for the majority of families in the United States,” the authors write. Nearly 9 million children attend child care and the majority of them spend more than 15 hours per week there. “The number of child-care centers has increased from less than 5,000 in 1977 to roughly 119,000 in 2007, with an estimated additional 238,103 family child-care homes,” the authors write.

“Therefore, it is essential that registered dietitians; dietetic technicians, registered; and other food and nutrition practitioners work in partnership with child-care providers and families of children in child care to meet children’s nutrition needs and provide them with models of healthful eating and active lifestyles.”

The authors add: “Child-care programs often serve as homes away from home, where children adopt early nutrition-related behaviors. Young children appear more likely than older children to be influenced by adults in an eating environment, and food habits and patterns of nutrient intake acquired in childhood may track into adolescence and adulthood.” The authors write that young children in full-time child-care programs typically consume half to three-quarters of their daily calories there, “making this an ideal setting for the promotion of healthful eating.”

Recommended benchmarks include:

  • Ensure foods and beverages served in child-care programs are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, so children “eat nutritious foods that promote optimal growth and development in their early and formative years.”
  • Serve children fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C daily and foods high in vitamin A at least three times per week.
  • Children should consume at least six servings daily of a combination of breads, cereals and legumes, and at least half of all grains they eat should be whole grains.
  • Limit the amounts of foods and drinks that are high in calories, sugar and sodium; and provide foods and beverages that are high in vitamins and minerals.
  • Since children’s nutrition and calorie needs change with age (typically gaining 5 to 6 pounds per year from age one year through adolescence), children should receive adequate and appropriate amounts of well-balanced meals and snacks. Sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program offer recommended patterns and portion sizes for meals and snacks in child care.
  • Accurate menus should be posted and families kept informed about the foods served at the child-care center.
  • Child-care providers should serve as role models and encourage healthful eating for children.
  • Providers should receive appropriate training in the basic principles of child nutrition. Foodservice personnel should have training in how to plan, prepare and serve nutritious, safe and appealing meals and snacks that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Daily Reference Intakes.
  • Food and nutrition practitioners including registered dietitians and dietetic technicians, registered should provide consultation and services to child-care programs. These services include “screening and assessment, information and education activities and counseling that take into account physical, emotional and financial considerations.”

The American Dietetic Association and its Foundation have long been committed to improving the school nutrition environment for children. In November 2010, ADA and its Foundation launched their first joint initiative, Kids Eat Right. This campaign is aimed at mobilizing ADA members to participate in community and school childhood obesity prevention efforts, and also to educate families, communities, and policy makers about the importance of high-quality nutrition. Kids Eat Right provides members with the resources to become more recognized leaders in childhood obesity prevention and to raise the awareness of the need to help children meet their nutrient requirements.

ADA’s School Nutrition Services dietetic practice group has more than 1,100 members working in school districts, federal and state agencies, business and industry, and colleges and universities, all dedicated to the integrity and promotion of school meal programs and the advancement of sound nutrition for children. And ADA’s Pediatric Nutrition practice group consists of more than 3,000 ADA members, primarily registered dietitians, who are dedicated to the vital role of good nutrition in the growth and development of infants, children and adolescents.

The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at