Staff Food-Related Behaviors and Children’s Tastes of Food Groups during Lunch at Child Care in Oklahoma

Published:October 05, 2017DOI:



      Young children should consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods to support growth, while limiting added fat and sugar. A majority of children between the ages of 3 and 5 years attend child care in the United States, which makes this environment and the child-care staff influential at meals.


      The aim was to determine the association between best-practice food-related behaviors and young children’s tastes of fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy, and high-fat/high-sugar foods at child care.


      This was a cross-sectional study.


      A community-based study with 201 children ages 3 to 5 years from 25 early care and education centers, including 11 tribally affiliated centers and two Head Start programs across Oklahoma. Data collection occurred from fall 2011 to spring 2014.

      Main outcome measures

      Classroom observations used the Environmental Policy Assessment Observation tool to measure the staff behaviors and environment. Staff behavior was compared at three different levels: the composite score of staff nutrition behavior, each constituent staff behavior, and staff behaviors grouped into broader feeding behaviors. Tasted food was measured through the Dietary Observation in Child Care method. The children’s meals were categorized into the following food groups: fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy, fried vegetable, fried meat, high-fat meat, and high-fat/high-sugar food.

      Statistical analysis performed

      Descriptive statistics were calculated for relevant variables. Relationships between the constituent staff behaviors and food groups that children tasted were compared using multilevel mixed-model analysis.


      The mean number of tasted fruit or vegetable items was higher and the mean number of tasted high-fat/high-sugar food items was lower when staff: 1) determined fullness before plate removal when less than half of food was eaten, 2) ate with the children, 3) and talked about healthy food.


      The utilization of the three staff behaviors and their association with higher mean tastes of nutrient-dense items and lower mean tastes of high-fat/high-sugar food items among exposed children demonstrated support for the use of the best practices in early care and education centers.


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      K. Anundson is a clinical registered dietitian nutritionist, Avera Queen of Peace Hospital, Mitchell, SD; at the time of the study, she was a graduate research assistant, Department of Nutritional Science, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahama City.


      S. B. Sisson is an associate professor, Department of Nutritional Science, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City.


      L. Hoffman is an assistant professor, Department of Nutritional Science, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City.


      M. Anderson is an assistant professor, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City.


      D. Horm is director of the Early Childhood Education Institute, University of Oklahoma, Tulsa.


      J. Soto is assistant director for the Center for Early Childhood Development Center, University of Oklahoma, Tulsa.