This study investigated the food offered to children under 5 years of age in UK day care, the influence of the childcare providers on a child's diet and their attitudes towards this role. A postal survey of a randomised quota sample of childcare providers enquired after the range of food on offer and explored attitudes towards the role of food in health and the role of promoting health. Themes emerging from these data were explored by in-depth interviews with a sample of 18 childcare providers and 7 Local Authority Early Years Service staff. We received 194 (56%) responses to 345 copies of the questionnaire. Half (46%) of nurseries and 23% of childminders provided a fruit or vegetable with the main meal 5 days a week. Only 14% of nurseries and 21% of childminders provided a dairy food (i.e. calcium-rich) at the main meal every day. Almost all the childcare providers saw themselves as responsible for promoting healthy diet, but it was rare for them to have had any formal training in nutrition, while current dietary guidance was perceived as too vague to be useful. The study also highlighted tensions on the issue of food provision between those delivering childcare and parents; further research should explore the parents' perspectives. Nursery staff and childminders should have access to carefully designed advice on nutritionally appropriate food and drink services for under-fives.