Source: UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Sep 15, 2001
Project End Date
Sep 14, 2005
Grant Year
Project Director
Sigman-grant, M.
Recipient Organization
RENO,NV 89557
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
In 1965, fewer than 20% of three- and four-year children were in care and education programs, compared to nearly 70% in 2000. While parents influence their children, so do child care providers. With millions of young children eating at least one meal daily in a group setting, it become crucial to understand how providers' food habits and feeding practices impact the feeding environment as it relates to children's nutritional status and developing food habits. Such information will address issues regarding a safe, secure, and adequate food supply to young children within a nurturing and supporting environment. However, before providers' impact on feeding can be determined, a clear understanding is need of actual behaviors and underlying influences them. The overall project goal is to acuiqre a realistic and accurate understanding regarding behaviors; knowledge; attitudes; beliefs; practices; and demographic descriptions of center-based child care providers. Providers will represent rural and urban populations of Caucasians, Latino, and African-Americans. Overall approach is to examine existing guidelines with individual providers; explore underlying behaviors; survey providers using a reliable and validated survey; analyze findings; and develop a Mealtime Rating Scale for evaluating mealtime environments. In addition, findings from this project are expected to (1) provide a foundation for future interventions; evaluations, and research within child care settings; (2) enhance local and national training efforts for providers supported by government funding (e.g. Head Start
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
1. Describe center-based child care providers from various populations (rural, urban, ethnicity) in demographic terms: income, age, education, etc. Subsequently, determine how these factors relate to the objectives below. 2. Delineate current child-feeding strategies being used by center-based child care providers. 3. Elucidate center-based child care providers' knowledge about child development with respect to eating and food preference. 4. Detail center-based child care providers' beliefs regarding children's abilities around mealtimes. 5. Characterize the experiences that have shaped center-based child care providers' feeding strategies- both positively and negatively. 6. Describe how center-based child care providers' own eating habits and body size influence their child-feeding practices. 7. Compare and contrast current group setting feeding guidelines with observed realities of center-based child care settings. 8. Determine what center-based child care providers perceive as the barriers in helping children acquire healthy eating behaviors. 9. Describe the impact of parental influences from center-based child care providers' perspectives. 10. Identify if center-based child care providers use practices that reflect the recommended philosophy of allowing children to determine the amount of food to eat. 11. Identify messages that are important to create supportive, structured center-based child care feeding environments that still leave room for trust, growth and development of the child. 12. Develop a Mealtime Rating Scale based on the on-site videotaped observations in child care centers that can be utilized as a self-assessment tool to help care providers: a) examine their current feeding environments & child feeding beliefs/practices. b) learn about the aspects of optimal child care environments. c) affect change in their current environments to better support children's growth and learning.
Project Methods
A combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches will be used to meet our objectives. Ecological (field) observations will be made throughout the study to establish survey validity and reliability. Current child care feeding recommendations from leading professionals and licensing agencies will be examined from the perspective of the child's needs. With input from an Expert panel (representing educators; center-based child care providers; licensing representatives; parents; and nutrition and child development theorists), pertinent issues will be identified and used to develop a structured interview guide. Individual interviews with center-based providers will be conducted to gather information regarding the feeding environment. Interviews will be organized geographically (rural and urban) and by ethnicity (White, Latina, African-American) and audiotaped. A minimum of 15 (but not more than 18) interviews for each location and ethnicity will be conducted. Key concepts and words from the interviews, Expert Panel, an instrument design consultant, a speech language specialist, and published guidelines will be used to develop initial questions for a quantitative survey. In addition to the content items, the survey will include knowledge of child development linkages to early childhood nutrition, self-reported weight and height (for BMI calculations), childhood feeding experiences, personal weight history and demographic information. A Likert scale will be used to allow for future factor analysis. The surveys will be designed to accommodate electronic scanning and automatic data entry. Pilot testing will be done to evaluate the instrument for general use. Ease of survey completion, respondents' interpretation, time to complete and scanner technology will be established. Test-retest reliability scores will be computed with half of these participants, selected at random. Field observation will determine if care providers responses match actual practices in terms of correct descriptions, terminology, etc. Observations will include field notes (in a standardized format) as well as videotapes depicting the realities, barriers and supports in relation to feeding guidelines. A second pilot test will be made with a small sample from each population type to ensure appropriate format and data processing for the final survey. Center-based child care providers (n=2500) within the states of Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, California and Washington will be mailed the final survey. A subset of respondents will take part in an ethnography study to document how standards of care (current child-feeding guidelines) are actually implemented (or not) by providers. Trained observers will go into the centers and maintain detailed activity records of behaviors and actions throughout mealtime that relate to major findings from the interviews and survey. A Mealtime Rating Scale will be drafted and validated for content by the Expert Panel. Identification of future extension, teaching and research applications will be made.

Progress 09/15/01 to 09/14/05

Two questionnaires (one for directors to provide center information and one for staff) were designed based on an environmental scan of experts, childcare providers, and center directors. These questionnaires were field-tested using cognitive interviewing techniques. Analysis of the mealtime environment at 568 childcare centers (representing 464 directors, 1190 staff) in four Western states (California, Colorado, Idaho and Nevada) is on-going. Those most involved in feeding children are classroom teachers (75 percent) and are white (58 percent), overweight (56 percent) and female (99 percent). Significant differences exist between states and census areas in food service and staffing. For example, more Hispanic providers are located in urban areas (27 percent) than in rural areas (10 percent), with the largest number working in California (33 percent) and the lowest in Idaho (5 percent). While 97 percent of providers were trained in child development, only 43 percent were trained in feeding children. Seventy percent of staff believed it is very or extremely important for children to learn to serve themselves as compared to over 95 percent who believed it is important to teach social, motor and conversational as well as table manners. Food served to children is provided in three different ways: exclusively by centers (59 percent), brought from home (10 percent), or a combination of the two (31 percent). Items designed to assess feeding beliefs and practices of staff were entered into an exploratory factor analysis. Preliminary results suggest 3 factors are related to eating issues in children (explaining 50 percent of the variance): Factor 1: Getting children to eat enough; Factor 2: Getting children to stop eating; and Factor 3: Internal regulation of meal termination. Staff responses are being compared to determine the extent of external locus of control arising from past feeding experiences of providers on their current child feeding practices. Factor analysis of questions related to current eating habits resulted in a one-factor solution, accounting for 94 percent of variance. Furthermore, there was a significant relationship between past and current eating habits of staff, including cleaning the plate. Video tapings of mealtimes in 20 centers (45 hours of recording) were analyzed to provide the basis of a mealtime inventory. A mealtime inventory containing 12 topic areas was designed, piloted and published. Each topic includes checklists of related observable mealtime practices and six possible ratings, from inadequate to ideal practice. A subgroup of the videotapes were analyzed and revealed that the majority of conversations for both children and teachers during mealtime was focused on the food and the pragmatics of making meals work.

Childcare center teachers involved in feeding children lack specific training in issues related to self-regulation of food intake in children; their own health and weight; and in a combination of child nutrition, and physical and language development. Trainers need to be cognizant of state and population density differences as they relate to feeding children. The inventory rating document may be helpful to directors, staff and monitors in assessing and improving mealtimes at childcare centers. This study reveals a need for targeted education adapted to the needs of the center that includes strategies to increase staff competency to support children as they learn healthy eating skills and habits.


  • Branen, L. and Fletcher, J. 2005. The Mealtime Rating Scale for Young Children's Group Mealtime Environments. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37:S71.
  • Fletcher, J, Branen, L, Price, E. and Matthews, SC. 2005. Building Mealtime Environments and Relationships: An Inventory for Feeding Young Children in Group Settings. 23 pages. Available via the internet at University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.
  • Ellefson, Christina 2005. Talking Around the Table: Teacher-child and Child-child Verbal Exchanges at Mealtimes in Early Childhood Programs. Unpublished master's thesis, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho
  • Price, Elizabeth 2005. Factors Influencing Feeding Styles Used by Staff During Meals With Young Children in Group Settings. Unpublished dissertation, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho