Nutrients Analysis of Preschool Lunch Menus in Virginia
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Child care centers are becoming much more influential in educating and caring for children because more and more families choose supplemental care for their young children in child development programs. In June 1997, Child and Adult Food Program (CACFP) served nearly 2.2 million children and provided meals to 2.6 million children in March 1998. A large number of children eat at least one and sometimes two or more of their meals at child care centers. It is imperative that nutritious and satisfying meals and snacks are served at child care centers. The purpose of this study was to examine menus planned in Head Start Program and Child Day Care Centers in Virginia and to assess if they meet the national Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) standards for vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron.
Lunch menus for 3-5 year old children were collected from 114 CACFP staffs attending a state wide CACFP menu training session. Fifty-seven weekly menus were selected based on geographic representation to analyze vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron levels by a nutritional analysis computer program. Menus were also divided into Head Start Program and Child Day Care Center for further analysis and comparison.
For all 57 sites, the mean values of these lunches exceeded the one-third RDAs for vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium; the average percentages were 198%, 121% and 134%, respectively. But the average iron level was only 63% RDAs. None of the child care centers met 100% of one-third RDAs for the lunch menus. Because dietary iron levels are consistently low, iron food sources were studied. The results showed no significant (p< 0.05) difference between the Head Start Program and Child Day Care Center.
Based on the findings of this study, following the established meal pattern guidelines for the child nutrition programs did not guarantee adequate iron levels in the planned menus of the child care centers. Some foods with high iron levels should be used more often. Further research is needed for this population in implementing the appropriate dietary guideline. In addition, the menu planing, food purchasing and preparation should be part of the training programs for child care centers.
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