Here’s when kids eat the most sugar — it’s not after-dinner dessert

It’s not the late-night snacking you have to worry about with kids. It’s the car ride home from daycare.

Children under the age of 5 consumed roughly 20% of their entire daily caloric intake in the hour after daycare, according to a recent study

Many working parents are all-too familiar with the daily routine: Rise and rush out the door, then it’s work and daycare all day, followed by a hurried evening to get dinner on the table and get the kids to bed at a decent hour. 

Kids consume roughly 20% of their daily caloric intake in the hour after daycare pick-up, according to a new study. Getty Images

At the end of the long workday, it’s natural to ease the transition from daycare to home with a snack, researchers noted.

But the quality of that snack is cause for concern. In addition to being highly caloric, the after-care food and drink amounted to about 22% of added sugar for the day, and about one-third of the sweet and salty snacks that kids ate, according to a press release

The research, which was published in the journal Children’s Health Care in April, looked at data contained in food journals from over 300 families of children who attended 30 childcare centers across Hamilton County, Ohio between 2009-2011, reported the Washington Post. Researchers examined multiple transition periods — one hour before and after drop-off; and one hour before and after pick-up. 

The kids, who were just over 4-years-old on average, ate about 1,470 calories per day. Dietary recommendations vary based on activity levels and sex, but children ages 4-8, should have between 1,200-2,000 calories per day.

Experts say that healthy snack swaps could help set the stage for better lifelong eating habits. Getty Images

In the hour after drop-off — while children were at the daycare — researchers also found that children ate less overall, took in less sugar and salty foods, and were more likely to eat fruit and dairy. During the hour after daycare, kids ate the least nutritious foods. They also took in 290 calories — or roughly 20% of their total daily intake. 

“Every parent knows how busy that time of day can feel. Parents can feel stressed, the kids may be cranky, hungry or tired,” Dr. Kristen Copeland, the study’s senior author and an attending doctor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said in a release. “There’s nothing wrong with treats once in a while. But that car ride home also can be an opportunity to instill healthier habits instead of less healthy ones.”

The study authors suggested parents stock their cars with veggie and fruit slices, cheese, and limit drinks to water or milk. 

Researchers looked at the eating habits of over 300 families across 30 different daycare centers. Getty Images

“Children of preschool age are in a highly habit-forming time of their lives. They thrive on routine,” Copeland added. Since kids often look forward to the car ride home, it gives parents an opportunity to establish healthy habits that could last a lifetime, the doctor noted.