Nutrition Information for Providers

Nutrition Guidelines

Children enrolled in child care programs may rely on the meals and snacks served in the program for one-third to one-half of their daily food intake. Health and nutrition experts agree that meals planned around the recommendations made in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans means more healthful meals for children. When planning your menus, follow these recommendations:

  • Offer a variety of foods for children to get the energy, protein, carbohydrates, minerals and fiber needed for good health.
  • Serve meals that help maintain healthy weight to reduce chances of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and diabetes.
  • Offer meals in low fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol to help reduce the risk of heart attacks later in life.
  • Serve plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products to provide the needed vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and fiber.
  • Use sugars in moderation. Sugars and highly sweetened foods supply calories but are limited in vitamins and minerals. A diet high in sugar can lead to obesity and tooth decay.
  • Use salt and sodium in moderation to reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Promote and alcohol and drug-free lifestyle.


Food Safety Guidelines

Keeping children healthy and safe is one of the most important priorities in your child care program. The following list is a set of food safety guidelines you should follow when preparing meals for your program.

  • Always wash your hands, and the children's hands, before and after every meal and snack.
  • Keep all work surfaces clean and organized. Keep the work area clean and wipe up all spills immediately.
  • Wash all raw fruits and vegetables before using them
  • Scrub and sanitize all cutting boards, knives, and counter tops immediately after contact with raw or cooked meats, fish or poultry using a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 quart of water.
  • Be sure to use a thermometer. Keep hot foods hot (140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) and cold foods cold (refrigerate or chill food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below).
  • Promptly refrigerate or freeze leftovers. Divide larger quantities into smaller containers or use shallow pans for quick cooking.
  • To prevent choking, do not serve popcorn, nuts, raisins, grapes, raw carrots or hot dogs (unless cut into 1/4 inch pieces) to children under the age of five.
  • Talk to parents about any allergies or special diets their children may have. Keep a list posted in the eating area for staff reference. Some allergic reactions can be very severe, so attentiveness is critical.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit handy in your food preparation area.
  • Remember that you cannot always determine food safety by sight, taste, odor or smell. If you have any doubt, throw the food away!



Learning Through Eating

Providing nutritious foods and encouraging good eating habits are important to every child care program. Meal times offer children the opportunity to socialize, try new foods and practice new skills. For example, allowing children to take part in food preparation develops skills in math, teamwork, and socialization. Allowing children to contribute in a way that is meaningful builds self-esteem. It is also a good way to teach them things like the names of utensils, how to count, right versus left, and more. 


Incorporating ideas and themes from your curriculum into meal times is a great way to involve the children. When children are allowed to use cookie cutters to cut pancakes into different shapes for breakfast, this reinforces the concept of shapes and sizes. Eating triangles and squares is more fun than "learning" about them. When children use many of their senses (smelling the pancakes, tasting the pancakes, feeling the texture of the pancake as they pick it up, listening to each other talk about the different shapes they are eating or how many squares they ate), learning is enhanced. 



When Children Won't Eat

Feeding children can be challenging. We know children need a healthy diet in order to grow and develop properly, but what can you do to get children to eat enough of the right kinds of foods? Below are some tips that may help you with picky eaters:

  • Create a pleasant eating environment. Meal time should be happy and relaxed. Allow enough time for meals and snacks so that the children don't feel rushed.
  • Introduce new foods one at a time to gain a greater acceptance. Serve a variety of textures, colors and temperatures of food.
  • Serve food from a diversity of cultures, especially those of the children enrolled in your program.
  • Serve age-appropriate servings. Large servings will make children feel overwhelmed. Allow the children to decide how much they will eat.  Family style serving is a best practice.
  • Serve foods that will appeal to the children. Bite-size pieces, interesting shapes, small muffins, and funny sounding names are all things you can incorporate into your menus.
  • Allow the children to participate in meal preparation. Assisting and watching the process of making a meal may entice the children to try something new.



Family Style Dining

Family style dining, where a family gathers together at the table for a meal and conversation, is not a new concept. Unfortunately, for many families today, this style is a thing of the past. Hectic schedules and busy lifestyles make gathering for a meal almost impossible. Instead, many families have to eat meals in shifts or on the run. 


As a child care provider, you know that meal time for children is more than just eating the required number of calories and nutrients. It is also a time of comfort and learning. Here are some of the key principles of family style dining that you can include into meal time at your program:

  • Involve the children in setting the table and cleaning up afterwards. This creates an atmosphere of togetherness and teamwork.
  • Gather everyone at the table and join them yourself. Model good table manners and healthy eating habits. Eat the same foods that the children eat. Be sure to try all of the foods. The children are watching you and are most likely to follow what you do.
  • Create a comfortable place for the children to eat and learn. Use child sized tables, chairs, serving containers and utensils.  Allow the children to serve themselves. 
  • Be patient. Eating neatly takes a lot of time and practice. Children will have accidents. Expect children to be awkward, slow, and somewhat messy until they develop all of the necessary skills and coordination.
  • Children must not watch television or other electronic visual media during meals.



Smart Shopping Tips

Everyone wants to save money when shopping for food. The goal is to save money while buying foods that will meet all the nutritional requirements for the children in your care. Here are some tips for healthy and economical food shopping:

  • Planning meals in advance is the key to economical shopping. This makes it easier to compare prices of brands, use coupons, and purchase the correct amount. Knowing what you need to buy also helps to decrease purchasing in excess.
  • Many packaged meals are high in fat and sodium and are often expensive. Purchasing the meal components individually and preparing the meal from scratch is more cost-effective and creates a healthier meal for the children.
  • Choose enriched bread. Look for the words "whole grain" at the beginning of the ingredient listing.
  • Plain frozen vegetables have less fat and salt than those in sauces or canned versions.
  • Half of the calories from chicken are in the skin. Buy skinless parts or remove the skin before cooking or eating.


For additional information regarding nutrition, please visit or call the Food Program at Council at ext. 24.