Guidelines for Choosing Nutritious Foods for Children in Child Care

Fruits at fruit stand

Child care providers play a key role in preventing childhood obesity by ensuring that children have access to healthy meals and snacks that meet their nutritional needs. The foods that a child care program serve to children can affect their health and well-being, and can influence their lifelong eating habits.

Children’s bodies need a variety of foods daily to get all the nutrients necessary for good health. The following five recommendations will help child care programs plan healthy meals and snacks that meet the changing nutritional needs of all children in the child care program.

  • Make half of children’s grains whole. Serve whole-grain foods, such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice and low fat popcorn more often.
  • Vary veggies. Include a variety of colors and types of vegetables in children’s meals and snacks over several days. Consider serving dark green vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, and green beans), yellow and orange vegetables (including carrots, summer squash, and sweet potatoes), starchy vegetables (such as corn and potatoes), and other vegetables (like tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers).
  • Focus on fruits. You can serve children fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruit. Whole fruit is a healthier alternative than fruit juice, because it includes fiber that helps children feel full. If you do serve juice, be sure it is 100% fruit juice, and limit the amount of juice served.
  • Serve calcium-rich foods. Be sure to serve children milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese. Children ages 2–6 should have two cups of milk daily. Remember that children between 1 and 2 years old need full-fat milk to provide enough dietary fat to support their growing brains. Children age 2 and older no longer need this additional dietary fat, and should be served reduced-fat or fat-free milk.
  • Make protein lean. Serve lean proteins, such as lean meat, poultry and fish. Also remember that dry beans, nuts, and peas (such as pinto beans, black beans, and lentils) are high-protein alternatives to lean meat. Just be cautious when serving nuts, because some young children are highly allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

For More Information

To learn more about healthy eating in a child care setting, check out the following articles: