Changes in Meal and Menu Quality at Early Care and Education Programs after Training with Food Service Staff: the FRESH Study

Elsevier, Current Developments in Nutrition, Volume 7, March 2023
Patel D., Sisson S.B., Sleet K., Rickman R., Love C., Taniguchi T. et al.

Background: Prevalence of obesity in Native American (NA) children is disproportionately high, indicating a higher risk of health disparities. Many children attend early care and education (ECE) programs, presenting an opportune environment to improve meal and menu quality as the intake of healthy foods is associated with lowered risk of childhood obesity. Objectives: We aimed to examine the effectiveness of food service staff training on meals and menu quality across NA ECEs. Methods: Food service staff from 9 participating ECE programs attended a 3-h training focused on Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) best practices, and received a tailored, best-practice menu, and healthy recipes. Meals and menus prepared across 1 wk were examined per CACFP serving size assumptions at baseline, 4 mos, 6 mos, and 12 mos for all 9 programs. Healthy Eating Index (HEI), CACFP requirements and best practices achievement, and food substitutions quality (classified into superior, equivalent, and inferior based on the nutritional quality) were calculated. A repeated measures ANOVA model was used to determine the differences across time points. Results: The total meal HEI score increased significantly from baseline to 4 mos (71.1 ± 2.1; 78.6 ± 5.0; P = 0.004), but did not differ from baseline to 12 mos. Menu CACFP requirements and best practices achievement did not differ across time points, although achievement with CACFP requirements was already high at baseline. Superior nutrition quality substitutions declined from baseline to 6 mos (32.4 ± 8.9; 19.5 ± 10.9; P = 0.007); however, it did not differ from baseline to 12 mos. Equivalent and inferior quality substitutions did not differ across time points. Conclusions: Implementing a best-practice menu with healthy recipes showed immediate improvements in meal quality. Although the change did not sustain, this study showed evidence of an opportunity to educate and train food service staff. Robust efforts are needed for improving both meals and menus. This trial was registered as NCT03251950 (