Jan. 9, 2009 Approximately 13 million children in the United States eat three or more meals and snacks each day at one of the country’s 117,000 regulated child-care centers. Due to increasing cost of food preparation and storage, more and more of these centers are requiring parents to provide food for their children.
But sack lunches sent from home may not regularly provide adequate nutrients for the growth and development of young children, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Third Coast Research and Development Inc. of Galveston, Texas. The study included 74 three to five-year-olds attending full-time child-care centers that required parents to provide lunches. Lunch contents were observed and recorded for three consecutive days.
The researchers found more than 50 percent of lunches provided less than minimum amounts of calories, carbohydrates, vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc, and 96 percent of lunches provided less than minimum recommended amounts of dietary fiber. The lunches did contain 114 percent of the recommended amount of sodium.
When parents were asked if lunch provides an important opportunity for their children to receive nutrients, all 97 agreed. But 63 percent responded that they tend to pack only foods they know their child will eat.
The researchers concluded that, even though parents understand the importance of lunch, they may not know how to consistently pack a nutritious sack lunch for their children. “When parents do not consistently pack a nutritious sack lunch they miss an opportunity to teach and reinforce good dietary habits to their children. As child-care centers shift the responsibility for providing meals and snacks to parents, they must address the practices that affect the long-term health and well-being of the children they serve,” the researchers said.
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