Characterizing dinner meals served and consumed by low-income preschool children

Child Obes. 2012 Dec;8(6):561-71. doi: 10.1089/chi.2011.0114.


Background: A dinner meal is consumed by approximately 95% of preschool children, yet few studies have characterized the dinner meal within a broader environmental context. The primary goal of this study was to identify the average quantities of foods served and consumed at the dinner meal by preschool children. A secondary goal was to look at factors that influenced the total amounts of food and energy consumed among preschoolers at the dinner meal.

Method: Food intake at a family dinner meal was measured using digital photography in African-American and Hispanic-American preschool children (n = 231). Pictorial records were converted to gram and energy estimates of food served and consumed; grams were converted to kilocalories for each food using Nutrition Data System for Research (NDSR) nutritional software. Foods were categorized by groups/subgroups. Comparison of means and coefficient of variation was examined overall and by food groups for food grams (and energy) served, consumed, and wasted. The relationship of mother/child characteristics to amounts served and consumed were analyzed by regression and analysis of variance (ANOVA).

Results: Plate waste was high; 30% of the foods served to the child at the dinner meal were not consumed. The amounts of food and beverage served and consumed varied within and among the food groups studied. The proportion of children served a major food group at the dinner meal varied considerably: 44% fruit/juice, 97% vegetables, 99% grains, 97% meats, 74% dairy, 66% sweetened beverages, 92% fat and oils, and 40% sweets and sugars. The amount of food served was positively associated with the amount consumed (p < 0.0001). Energy density of the dinner meal was positively associated with energy intake consumed (p < 0.0001).

Conclusions: Plate waste and variation in amounts served and consumed was substantial. The amount of food served was positively associated with the amount of food consumed by preschool children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Beverages
  • Black or African American
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dairy Products
  • Eating
  • Edible Grain
  • Energy Intake
  • Family
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Fruit
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meals*
  • Meat
  • Mothers
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Photography
  • Poverty*
  • Vegetables