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K-State Today

March 23, 2020

Should child care centers replace breakfast grains with protein-rich foods?

Submitted by College of Health and Human Sciences

Child care centers that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP, now have the option to serve foods such as meat, eggs and yogurt in place of the breakfast grain requirement up to three times per week. However, exercising this new option may lead to meals that are low in important nutrients and excessively high in protein, according to a K-State researcher. 

"Although low-carbohydrate diets are popular among adults, applying the low-carbohydrate concept to preschool-aged children may have unintended consequences," said lead author Jennifer Hanson, registered dietitian and assistant professor at Kansas State University. "Childhood growth and development are highly dependent on adequate nutrition and understanding the impact of this new rule is an important public health matter."

To evaluate the parameters of the rule, Hanson and her research team created a simulated preschool menu by replacing the breakfast grains with protein-rich foods three times per week. They then compared the menu to current recommendations. Results of that comparison showed that the menu was low in calories, carbohydrate, fat, fiber and vitamin E while providing more than double the reference value for protein. The researchers estimated that a 4- to 5-year-old child would need between 802-1,043 calories during the time they spend in full-time child care each day. However, the simulated preschool menu only averaged 528 calories per day.

In addition, the number of grain servings in the menu was well below the number recommended by the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as the number recommended in the National Academy of Medicine's report on CACFP meals. While these guidelines suggest that a 4- to 5-year-old child needs roughly three servings of grains during the time they spend in full-time care, the simulated preschool menu only provided one-half to one grain serving per day.

It should be noted that this study was based on a minimum serving requirement and did not look at food that was served or consumed. But according to Hanson, prior research that has measured consumption has revealed similar patterns in which calories, carbohydrate, fiber, vitamin E and iron intakes were below the reference values.

"It appears that the CACFP rules may be in need of revision if the options allowed under the rules are to align with current recommendations," Hanson said.

Additional details can be found in the full article published online in Public Health Nutrition.