Child care providers play a crucial role in helping young children learn healthy eating habits. Mealtimes and snacks in child care can be great learning opportunities for young children. Children can learn to identify and choose a variety of foods, practice language skills, and build relationships with teachers and other children. Child care providers can help make mealtimes a learning experience by setting up a relaxed, unhurried mealtime. Here are some tips to make mealtimes a relaxed and enjoyable time together, rather than a hurried experience between other activities.
- Sit with children during meals. Too many child care providers use children’s mealtimes as a chance to do routine tasks such as setting up cots, cleaning up dishes, or sanitizing toys. Take time to sit at the table and share the meal with children. Sitting with children encourages appropriate behavior, and gives children a chance to learn healthy eating habits by watching you. Even infants and toddlers enjoy sharing a meal with their child care providers.
- Make meal time a highlight of the day. Take time for conversation and fun, as well as food. Talk about children’s families, activities of the day, and the food you are eating. Discuss colors, shapes and sizes of foods. Talk about where food comes from. The choices for good conversation are endless. Taking the time to talk with children encourages language learning and social relationships as well as healthy eating.
- Make it last. Children have short attention spans, but most can sit and eat for about 15 minutes, especially if you are talking with them and having fun. No meal should last less than 15 minutes. The stomach needs about 20 minutes to get the message to the brain that it is satisfied. If children eat their food in less than 15 minutes, it is likely they will not feel satisfied and will want more to eat soon after the meal.
For More Information
To learn more about healthy eating in a child care setting, check out the following articles:
- Guidelines for Choosing Nutritious Foods for Children in Child Care
- Helping Children in Child Care Learn Healthy Eating Habits
- Make Mealtimes in Child Care Pleasant, Easy and Appealing
- Tips for Child Care Providers to Promote Healthy Attitudes about Food
- Eating Behaviors and Challenges in Child Care