Education in a Homeless Shelter to Improve the Nutrition of Young Children


  • Yvonne Yousey,

    1. R.N., C.P.N.P., Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine and Program Manager for Children With Traumatic Brain Injury, JFK Partners University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, Denver, Colorado,
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  • Jacquelyn Leake,

    1. R.N., M.S.N., School of Nursing, University of North Carolina—Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina,
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  • Melissa Wdowik,

    1. Ph.D., R.D., is Research Associate and Instructor, Department of Food Service and Human Nutrition, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
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  • Janice K. Janken

    1. R.N., Ph.D., is Professor and Chair, MSN Program, Presbyterian School of Nursing, Queens University of Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina
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Yvonne Yousey, 2383 South Pebble Beach Drive, Evergreen, CO 80439. E-mail:


ABSTRACT Objective: To improve the nutritional status of homeless children by implementing an educational program for their mothers and the cafeteria staff at a homeless shelter.

Design: Program evaluation including before and after measures of mothers' nutritional knowledge and nutritional quality of foods served in the cafeteria.

Sample: Fifty-six mothers with children aged 18 months to 6 years and 3 cafeteria staff.

Intervention: Four nutrition classes developed by a registered nutritionist were taught to mothers by clinic nurses; 3 nutrition classes were taught to the cafeteria staff by the nutritionist.

Results: Mothers scored higher on posttests than on pretests, indicating improved nutritional knowledge. Minimal differences in the nutritional quality of foods served to residents were observed after staff education.

Conclusions: This project demonstrates the challenges of altering the nutritional status of children in a homeless shelter. Despite mothers showing better knowledge of nutritional requirements for children, the types of food served in the cafeteria were an obstacle to them in practicing what they had learned. The cafeteria staff's ability to demonstrate their learning was impeded by the constraints of food donations. Educational strategies may need to be augmented by policies to improve the nutritional status of children in homeless shelters.