Early Care & Education

The diets of most children in the U.S. today fail to meet recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, placing children at risk for developing chronic disease. Child care settings provide an important opportunity to influence children's eating habits and health; 64% of preschool-age American children receive nonrelative care outside their homes. The child care environment may influence children’s dietary intake by providing nutritious food and beverages, implementing feeding practices that encourage healthy choices, teacher role modeling of healthy eating behaviors, and the provision of nutrition education.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides federal reimbursements for nutritious meals and snacks to 4 million children per year, primarily from low-income at-risk populations. Foods served to children in CACFP-participating settings have to meet specific nutrition standards. Many states, including Connecticut, require (but do not necessarily enforce) that all licensed child care centers meet CACFP nutrition standards when serving meals and snacks, so the program has the potential for far-reaching impact.

Research

Rudd study released in 2018 found that Connecticut child care centers participating in CACFP provide preschoolers with healthier meals and/or snacks than non-participating centers. Expanding access to CACFP has strong potential to improve the diets and food security of low-income children, ultimately reducing inequities in diet behaviors and health.

Current Work

In collaboration with CT State Department of Public Health, CT State Department of Education, CT Office of Early Childhood, and the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut

  • Increasing public awareness about CACFP to improve participation among eligible child care centers and family day care homes in Connecticut.
  • Conducting outreach to licensed child care centers to improve provider understanding of the state licensing regulations requiring compliance with CACFP nutrition standards.
  • Assessing participation in the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) among Connecticut child care centers to identify barriers to CACFP, costs and benefits of participation and the role of CACFP in improving children’s food environment.
  • Identifying opportunities for reducing food waste in CT child care centers.
  • Providing child care providers with ongoing support, technical assistance, and access to online trainings on supporting healthy eating and physical activity in early childhood.

Other Resources

  • Action Guide for Child Care Nutrition and Physical Activity Policies - developed by the CT State Department of Education in 2010 to help local child care, early education, and afterschool programs establish and implement policies and practices that encourage healthy lifestyles in children.
  • New Haven Preschool Nutrition Initiative - a former Rudd collaborative, community-based research project with a community preschool in New Haven, CT. 
  • Learning Care Group (LCG), a leading early childhood education and care provider, made a 3-year commitment with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to implement several evidence-based nutrition and physical activity policies in more than 900 child care centers. As part of its pledge, LCG teamed with the Rudd Center to assess its Grow Fit Program. The goal was to ensure compliance with these objectives throughout its 900+ centers and to complete the first large-scale, mixed-methods study yielding findings to inform the implementation of other early education and care wellness policies. Read the full study here

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Measurement Tools for Research Settings