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May 12, 2009
With your child in child care, there are many things you might be hoping he/she takes away from the experience. There are the lessons that will be carried throughout life, and healthy eating is one of them. Not only do you want your children to learn about the importance of healthy eating, but you also want them to practice eating healthy. You may talk about this at length in your own home, but you might be wondering what your provider can do to match what you're sharing with your child.
Below are some suggestions that your child care provider might use to promote healthy eating in young children. These have been adapted from Early Years Are Learning Years from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (www.naeyc.org).
Help build self-esteem and teach good eating habits by allowing children to plan, prepare and serve simple nutritional snacks. For example, create smiling faces using rice cakes and cheese. You can also make frozen banana sticks or applesauce. Introduce new foods in small portions to encourage children to taste their creations.
Use seed catalogs and real vegetables to look at the edible parts of different plants. Children can conduct a taste-test on different raw and cooked vegetables. Then they can discuss the nutritional value of each vegetable. Children can also work together to make vegetable soup and create labels for their own soup cans.
Choose the cultural heritage of one or more children as a theme for a day's meals and snacks. Discuss at mealtimes how factors such as climate help shape food habits.
Under adult supervision, young children can bake their own whole grain breads. Make it fun by shaping the dough into different animal shapes.
This type of outing will put children in touch with local surroundings and create an awareness of how food is grown and sold in places other than a supermarket. If your child's group is unable to take a field trip, maybe a local farmer could speak to the class about the fruits or vegetables on his farm.
Trade some of the unhealthier plastic foods in toy kitchens with replicas of fruits and vegetables, loaves of bread and wedges of cheese. Better yet, replace the unhealthy foods in your real refrigerator with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Lessons about healthy foods will "stick" more when you eat healthy too!
Parents, caregivers and teachers should work together to establish an understanding of how best to meet each child's nutritional needs. Teaching children to eat wisely and moderately is an investment in the future, and establishing healthy eating habits in the early years is not only important, but can also be fun.