Happy Teacher Mealtime Study
The mealtime is an integral and influential part of the learning environment in early childhood education (ECE) settings, yet there is evidence that the quality of mealtime practices vary across classrooms (Benjamin-Neelon, 2018; Dev et al., 2013). Further, there is limited understanding on what teacher characteristics influence mealtime practices. Therefore, we examined the frequency of and relationship between responsive feeding practices used during early childhood education (ECE) mealtimes and high-quality teaching practices and teacher characteristics in our study (Malek-Lasater et al., 2021). We used a subsample of 31 ECE teachers randomly selected from our larger sample that was part of the Happy Teacher Project (Kwon et al., 2020). Teachers completed a questionnaire on well-being and were observed for mealtime practices using the Mealtime Observation in Childcare (MOCC) checklist (Dev et al., 2020) during lunch and observed outside of lunch for classroom quality using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (Pianta et al., 2008). We found that teachers showed variation in their use of responsive feeding practices and were more often observed using role modeling than supporting eating self-regulation. Implementing family style meal service was associated with a generally higher use of responsive feeding practices. We also found positive associations between high-quality teaching practices and responsive feeding practices. Teachers’ Head Start status was associated with teaching practices and role modeling during mealtime. Teachers’ education and salary were associated with high-quality teaching practices.
We are building on this work in a second study that is under way in collaboration with Dr. Dipti Dev at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is Adrien Malek-Lasater’s doctoral dissertation study. This study will provide a multidisciplinary evaluation of ECE teachers’ knowledge and use of best teaching and feeding practices during mealtime, and also evaluate associations between teacher practices and children’s behavior during mealtime. Through video observations of preschool classroom lunchtimes assessed by the Mealtime Observation in Childcare Checklist (MOCC) (Dev et al., 2020b) and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System – PreK (CLASS-PreK) (Pianta et al., 2008), we will examine the relationship between high-quality teaching and responsive feeding practices during the mealtime. We will then examine teacher perspectives, goals, and their perceived roles during mealtime through qualitative analysis of teacher interviews. Lastly, we will examine associations between teacher mealtime practices and children’s behavior at mealtime through video observations of lunchtimes coded for children’s behavior during mealtime, teacher practices, and teacher-child interactions during mealtime, using a time sampling tool.