Preschool food waste and nutrition behavior
Milodragovich, Allison Marie
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While fruit and vegetable (FV) consumption is a key component of healthy diets, evidence demonstrates that preschool-aged children in the USA do not meet dietary recommendations for FVs. Preliminary research has shown children that children receive fifty to sixty-five percent of nutrients during the school day through child nutrition programs. Concurrently, children are not eating enough FVs at the same time. The primary objective is to quantify the amount of food waste that occurs in the CACFP utilized in a preschool setting. The secondary objective is to examine the effectiveness of a FV nutrition education program on decreasing the amount of food wasted. A cross-sectional and quasi-experimental research project was implemented to collect food waste and observational measurements at the following three-day intervals corresponding to a nutrition education intervention: (1) pre-education phase, (2) behavioral education phase, (3) personal education phase, and (4) post-education phase. Quantitative food waste measurements were conducted through direct weighing. A unique observational tool was developed, piloted, and implemented. Food preference data was collected through a commonly implemented child preference survey. Findings from the plate waste data indicate that 43.6% total waste occurred across all data collection time periods with vegetables being the most wasted food category with an average of 66% waste across all data collection periods. Compared to vegetables, fruit is wasted at a lower rate of 18.2% across all data collection periods. Serving waste is the primary source of waste for all food categories representing 80% of total waste, while plate waste represents 16 % of total waste. Plate waste across the nutrition education periods found significant (p < 0.05) differences between the pre-education phase amount of 10.8% and post-education phase amount of 4.6%. No significant differences were found between means of total and serving waste across the four data collection periods of the nutrition education. Observational measurements showed greater incidence of positive fruit behavior. Preference data found that children prefer fruits over vegetables. Findings have the potential to inform the CACFP as well as other food and nutrition programs that seek to support healthy eating habits among pre-school children while supporting sustainability.