Food Properties and Individual Characteristics Influence Children's Intake Across Multiple Days of Weighed Assessments in Childcare Programs

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Background: Because children often consume substantial proportions of their diets in childcare programs, it is critical to determine what they eat when served menus meeting dietary recommendations and how intake is related to individual characteristics. Objectives: Using weighed assessments, we characterized children's consumption across 15 daily menus and investigated the relationship between properties of the food consumed and child characteristics. Methods: In 3 crossover trials in childcare centers that followed dietary guidelines, we provided and weighed all meals and snacks for 5 consecutive days. For this descriptive secondary analysis, we characterized primary outcomes (daily food weight, energy density, and energy intake) by including the most typical set of menus from each trial, yielding 603 daily intakes for 128 preschool children (15% with overweight or obesity). Physical activity was measured by accelerometry during childcare sessions. Children's appetitive traits were assessed by parental questionnaires. Results: Both food properties and child characteristics were related to daily intake. More food was consumed from menus with greater food weight, and the energy density of consumed food was greater from menus with higher energy density (both P < 0.0001); these menu differences resulted in greater energy intake (P = 0.009). Children with overweight and obesity had greater energy intake as a proportion of requirements than did children with healthy weight (113 ± 6% versus 101 ± 2%; P = 0.039). Vegetable intake was 39 ± 2% of the recommended amounts and boys had lower consumption than girls (P = 0.004). Children with appetitive traits of lower satiety responsiveness or higher food responsiveness had greater daily energy intake (both P < 0.003). Conclusions: Weighed intakes showed that when children were served daily menus with substantial portions of foods that met dietary recommendations, they selectively consumed higher–energy-dense items and ate few vegetables. A particular concern was that children with overweight ate amounts that exceeded their energy needs. The trials were registered at (NCT02963987, NCT03010501, NCT03242863).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1646-1655
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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