Healthy meals and snacks are important for young children to build strong minds and strong bodies. Eating well at a young age starts children off on the right foot to live long, healthy lives. Serving healthy foods in the child care setting can teach children to have healthy food preferences at an early age and can keep them at a healthy weight. Children who are well nourished are shown to have fewer behavioral problems and are better able to learn and play.
The Healthy Initiatives help children have healthy food choices in the child care setting by asking the provider to make sure that any meals or snacks they serve meet the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) nutrition standards. These guidelines are developed and updated on a regular basis by the USDA to assure that meals and snacks meet the nutrition needs of children. For example, lunch served by a child care provider would need to have one serving of milk, two servings of fruit and/or vegetables, one serving of grains or bread, and one serving of meat or a meat alternative. The serving sizes are different depending on the child’s age. These guidelines do not apply to food provided by parents and make allowances for children who may need different foods due to allergies, restrictions, or parental choices.
There are many ways to make sure children learn to like healthy foods. Children are more likely to eat foods if they know where they come from and have a chance to explore the foods before eating them. Children can help with gardening, basic cooking, meal preparation, and cleaning up after meals. Mealtime is a fun time to talk to children about the way foods look, smell, and taste. They can play games with fruits and vegetables to learn colors, counting, and shapes. There are also great books, songs, and activities that can be played with healthy foods to help make sure that children are experiencing a variety of healthy foods for years to come.