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Lunch is ready… but not healthy: An analysis of lunches served in childcare centres in two Canadian provinces

Stephanie Ward, Mathieu Bélanger, Denise Donovan, Hassan Vatanparast, Rachel Engler-Stringer, Anne Leis, Natalie Carrier


OBJECTIVES: Childcare centres (CCs) typically offer one meal and snacks daily. This study compared what is served in CCs with what the nutritional recommendations are; described and compared the nutritional composition of lunches served in CCs in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan; and examined differences between French and English, and urban and rural centres.

METHODS: The study involved 61 randomly selected CCs in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, Canada. Lunch content was measured on two consecutive days by weighing each food item served to children and by visually documenting the food items using digital photography. Food items were categorized into food groups according to Health Canada’s Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, and nutrients were analyzed using a nutritional analysis software. One-sample t tests compared lunch content with nutritional recommendations. Independent t tests compared the nutrient and food group content of lunches in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, French and English, and urban and rural CCs.

RESULTS: On average, CCs did not meet provincial recommendations. Lunches in both provinces were low in calories (<517 kcal) and fibre (<7 g). Overall, Saskatchewan centres served greater amounts of food than New Brunswick centres (p < 0.05). French-speaking centres provided less fat (p = 0.047), less saturated fat (p = 0.01), and fewer servings of meat and alternatives (p = 0.02), and more trans fat (p = 0.03) than English-speaking centres. There were no differences between rural and urban centres.

CONCLUSIONS: Few CC lunches met nutritional recommendations. Interventions are required to improve the quality of foods offered in CCs. Reviewing or developing comprehensive nutrition guidelines is warranted.


Child day care centers; food quality; lunch; nutritional value

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