Supporting Healthy Nutritional Habits
Raising healthy eaters requires understanding two components that include quantity, routine, and mealtimes:
- Food Options and Portions
- Feeding Behaviors and Methods
What and How Much To Feed Children in Child Care?
- At about six months, most children will be ready to integrate some solid foods, for example, infant cereal, alongside breast milk. Be sure to work alongside parents on their child’s progress.
- Older children (about 2 years+) should be encouraged to serve themselves if they’re able. It's ok if children do not eat everything they put on their plate.
- Sometimes a child’s appetite will fluctuate. This is normal. Do not try to force feed or reward them for eating. If the child wants more, it's okay to serve more.
- Offer and encourage variety in types of foods. Children may need 20 or more opportunities, free from pressure and force, to learn to like new foods.
- Instead of a hot dog, try a chicken or turkey sausage.
- Instead of sugary drinks like soda or sweet juice, try milk or water.
When To Feed Children in Child Care?
- Establish routine times for eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks between meals. Eat every couple of hours throughout the day.
- Limit beverages (like juice) in between meals that could hinder appetite. Stick to water.
- For young infants, pay attention to hunger cues, such as sucking on their hand or light fussing.
Where and How To Feed Children in Child Care?
- Feeding should occur family style in a communal area, such as the dining table.
- Distractions should be limited. No TV or games
- Everyone should be seated still and eating in their own space.
- Eating is a time to learn both feeding skills and social skills.
- Offer new foods for kids to try, but don't pressure or force them to eat it if they don't want it. Continue to offer these foods to help them gain familiarity.
- Be patient, help them to enjoy eating and learning how to serve themselves and behave at the table.
- Involve older children in the process of food preparation and serving.
- Be a role model.
- Don’t cater to preferences (everyone eats the same thing), but allow them the choice of whether or not to eat something.
- Use phrases that help, not hinder.
- Instead of “Eat that for me”, try “This is kiwi fruit; it’s sweet like a strawberry.”
- Instead of “No dessert until you eat your vegetables,” try “We can try these vegetables another time. Next time would you like to try them raw instead of cooked?”
Staying Safe: Tips To Prevent Choking
It is your responsibility to supervise while they eat to ensure they are being safe:
- Children should eat slowly not with mouthfuls too large and not storing food in cheeks.
- Children need to stay seated in their own chair and not disturb another’s space.
- Foods should be cut or chopped into small, manageable sizes.
- Foods for babies should be cut in small pieces no larger than .6 centimeter (1/4 inch) cubes.
- For toddlers, food pieces should be no larger than 1.3 centimeters (1/2 inch) cubes.
- For children under 4 years old skip hard, small, whole foods like:
- Hot dogs and other meat sticks (unless cut smaller)
- Raw carrot rounds
- Whole grapes
- Hard candy
- Raw peas
- Hard pretzels
- Rice cakes
- Spoonfuls of peanut butter
- Chunks of meat larger than can be swallowed whole
- Serve age-appropriate foods, bear in mind children’s teeth (or lack thereof).
- Cook harder foods like vegetables to make softer and more edible.
- Make sure solids and liquids are not consumed at the same time.
- Do not allow children to run, play, lay down, or fall asleep while attempting to feed themselves.
General Nutrition Resources
- Childhood Feeding Practices for information on best feeding practices to use with children to promote healthy, happy eaters
- Help Me Be Healthy on age-appropriate nutrition, health and developmental milestones from birth to 4.5 years old
- Feeding My Baby on breastfeeding, formula feeding, and starting solid foods
- Feeding My Child about healthy feeding for young children
- Infant to Toddler Nutrition on feeding healthy foods and drinks from birth to 24 months of age
- Rethink Your Drink. Drinking water is important to help your body work best. Use these tips to help you hydrate better with water.
- Provide Healthy Beverages a "How To" page
- ChooseMyPlate 5 Food Groups suggestions for a healthy balanced diet
- Healthy Eating for Preschoolers recommended daily serving sizes on the 5 food groups by ages
- Potter the Otter promotes healthy living to young children
- Nurture Healthy Eaters tools to help children eat healthy
- Healthy Weight & Nutrition Resource Page materials and videos
- Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children on creating healthier environments in child care
- Positive Eating Environment Self-Assessment for Early Care and Education (ECE) Programs a nutrition self-assessment
Feeding Behavior Resources
- 5 Keys to Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: recommended behaviors to improve mealtime (English | Spanish | Vietnamese)
- The Division of Responsibility: Raise a healthy child who is a joy to feed on childhood feeding behaviors
- Child Feeding Ages and Stages Division of Responsibility materials and videos on feeding behaviors
- Childhood Feeding Problems and Solutions on tips for feeding picky eaters, children who eat too little or too much, etc.
- Tips for Happy Mealtimes on improving mealtimes
- Tips for Picky Eaters infographic
- NEEDS for Tots Nutrition Resource Page materials and videos
Available Training and Classes for Child Care Providers
Helping Parents to Feed Well so Children Eat Well Online Training The training provided by the Childhood Feeding Collaborative consists of four 30-minute modules with videos, lecture, worksheets, and a downloadable Certificate of Completion
Choices For Children - 5 Keys to Raising a Happy, Healthy Eater in Child Care
My Plate: www.choosemyplate.gov
The Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter): ellynsatterinstitute.org/other/ecsatter.php
WIC – Feed Me! Birth to 6 Months
My Plate – Phrases that HELP and HINDER
AAP – Reducing Choking Risks: Tips for Early Education and Child Care Settings
Global Healthy Child Care – Choking Hazards