Healthy Eating at Child Care Centers

Children in the United States have been increasingly at risk for becoming obese and overweight early in childhood (Hoiting, n.d.). It is estimated that 80% of preschool-aged children of employed mothers spend nearly 40 hours a week at some kind of child care center (Larson, et. al., 2011). These pre-school aged children are receiving one to two meals plus a snack daily at child care centers. Targeting child care centers to promote healthy eating and prevent obesity in young children is a logical decision, although only recently targeted in the last five to eight years.

A federally funded reimbursement program organized by States, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) incentivizes child care centers to provide more nutritious meals and snacks. It is similar to the school lunch program, subsidizing meal cost based on a child’s economic status. The CACFP sets forth minimum requirements of the nutritional content that needs to be served at each meal. The process of applying and meeting the requirements may seem daunting, but could be well worth it. Each state has a representative to answer questions for those interested in enrolling. Information for Wisconsin’s CACFP agency can be found here .

Another recommendation for child care centers to promote healthy eating is to incorporate family style eating during meals. This is an intervention, I personally had not heard of previously. Family style meals gives child care staff and providers the opportunity to promote healthy eating habits and attitudes towards foods. Food is placed on the table in communal dishes and served at the table. Staff eat the meal with the children. The USDA has a guideline available, outlining the best way to incorporate family style eating (USDA, n.d.). This video put together by the Arizona Department of Health Services exemplifies how some child care centers have gone about making the switch and the benefits they have observed with family style meals.

Child care centers play an impactful role on the health of preschool aged children. Only recently have interventions for obesity prevention began targeting child care centers. Outreaching to more child care centers to work with them to provide healthy foods has the potential to make a difference on children’s health. Fortunately, there are programs like CACFP that can assist in making the change financially more realistic for child care providers.


Arizona Department of Health Services. (2010 Nov 3). Family style meals in childcare settings [Video]. Retrieved from YouTube website,

Larson, N., Ward, D. S., Neelon, S. B., & Story, M. (2011). What role can child-care settings play in obesity prevention? A review of the evidence and call for research efforts. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 111 1343–1362.

Polzin, M., Hoiting, J., & Mein A. (n.d.). Interview with Molle Poizin, Wisconsin department of public instruction and Jill Hoiting, supporting families together association [Podcast]. Retrieved on October 16, 2015 from Learn@UW website.

USDA. (2015). Child and adult care food program (CACFP). Retrieved on October 16, 2015 from

USDA. (n.d.). Family style meals: A new way to teach healthy eating habits. Retrieved on October 16, 2015 from

Like what you read? Give Marlaina M. a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.