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Background. Poor nutrition practices result in malnutrition, a public health concern that affects a third of children globally. In Zimbabwe, ~27.6% of children under-5 years old are stunted. Some of these children spend long hours in early childhood development centres (ECDCs). Children can receive half to two-thirds of their daily food intake while in care, making ECDCs an ideal entry point to influence child nutrition positively. There are no specific nutrition guidelines for ECDCs in Zimbabwe.
Objective. The study aimed to investigate food provision at ECDCs of the Northern-Central District of Harare.
Methods. A descriptive, cross-sectional study with an analytical component was conducted in 15 ECDCs. Fifteen ECD managers (ECDMs) and 14 food handlers (FHs) were included in the study. An observational checklist allowed recording of food preparation and hygiene practices. The Dietary Diversity Score (DDS) of the menu was calculated using the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 9-group DDS sheet.
Results. Inadequate food storage facilities and food handling practices were observed. Staff had minimal nutrition-related training. Staff displayed a positive attitude towards their role in providing healthy meals. Barriers to serving healthy meals were inadequate funds, children’s food preferences, unrealistic parental expectations, and external factors. The mean DDS score for menus was 2.8. Meals consisted mainly of starchy items, legumes and meat, and lacked fruit and dairy items.
Conclusion. National guidelines can improve children’s dietary intake while in day care. In alignment with Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 3, food provision at ECDCs should be a priority.