Most childcare providers offer a nutritious, balanced diet to those in their care and are knowledgeable about healthy eating, inspectors say.
Very few providers are not serving a balanced diet
Education inspectors Ofsted visited 110 day childcare providers in England including nurseries, crèches and childminders.
Almost 70% were good or outstanding - no childminders and 4% of day care providers were judged inadequate.
Most offered food low in sugar and fat, but 11 often served sweets and crisps.
Such foods should be available in moderation, or as an occasional reward, Ofsted recommends.
Ofsted's director of Early Years, Dorian Bradley, said that amid the debate around the standard of school meals, little had been said about the food offered to very young children.
"I'm pleased to say the picture looks rosy," she said. "Child carers, in the main, have embraced the concept of healthy eating and the wider benefits gained from it."
The best providers found out about children's likes and dislikes, presented food well and worked with parents to encourage children to try new foods, Ofsted said.
However, some carers were reluctant to question parents when they gave children fatty or sugary foods in their lunchboxes, inspectors found.
Childcare providers already have to adhere to national standards on the quality of food they provide. They stipulate that every day, at least one item from the following groups of foods should be available:
- Bread, potatoes, rice or pasta
- Fruit and vegetables
- Milk and dairy products
- Meat, fish and other non-dairy sources of protein
Schools will have to meet standards provided by the Department for Education and Skills from this September.
Ana Palenciano is co-director of Polkadot Day Nursery in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is rated outstanding in the quality of food it provides.
She said teaching children to eat a balanced diet was about more than just offering them healthy choices.
"Children need to know how to respect and value food," she said.
"We teach them that some children don't have food and then they can learn to appreciate it.
"Here children learn how to behave at the table, to use cutlery and to have good table manners. If they don't learn these things, their food will just end up on the floor."
But Ms Palenciano, who is from Spain, added that food was "a cultural issue".
"A lot of people in this country miss out on learning to eat properly, but the children here become used to eating at the table with us as a family."
She aims to introduce children to healthy food from day one, and the menu for weaning babies includes lamb, apricots and pulses.
Menus for all their children, from babies up to five-year-olds, include lots of fish, meat, vegetarian food and pulses, and dessert is usually fruit.
Sweets and biscuits are not completely banned, but are given sparingly.
"There is no point in depriving children, but they get enough of that type of thing at home," she said.
"It is nonsense that children just don't like some foods. If they have been eating it from day one, they don't know any different, do they?
"But you have to use common sense and moderation."