Tag Archives: healthy foods

How to Make the Most of Mealtime


For parents and teachers, mealtime is not always the most enjoyable time of the day. Whether it be a child not wanting to eat what you serve, not wanting to leave an activity to come to the table, or just not knowing what to cook, mealtime can be seen as a stressful time. I have seen some incredible early childhood programs use mealtime not only to provide healthy, balanced meals, but also to provide an opportunity for supporting social skills and self help skills. I have seen an increase in “Family Style Dining” in many of the programs I have worked with.

Family style dining provides opportunities for children to practice patience, turn taking, and using manners. The children are able to pass the bowls of food and serve themselves. What better way to use those fine motor skills than by trying to balance the proper amount of spaghetti on your spoon and carefully moving it to your plate? Using utensils is a great way to work on those pre-writing skills through the use of those small muscles in the hand. The children are learning to be autonomous and independent. Allowing children to serve themselves may be messy at first, but it is worth it when the children become more coordinated and feel the sense of pride that comes with being trusted with these tasks. Family style dining allows for great conversation between the child and caregiver, and any chance to engage verbally with the children is fabulous.

Many programs are also looking into healthier meal planning, and I have seen children really learning to love healthy foods. This can also be a great parent engagement piece, educating families on health and nutrition. It is becoming rare to hear of families eating together at the table, and as child care providers we can lead by example and show the benefits of taking the time to enjoy meals together as a family. There are wonderful programs for parents and teachers,  such as My Plate, USDA Team Nutrition, and Let’s Move! Child Care. You can also download the free Family Style Dining Guide to get started on building healthy habits around eating in your program today. Bon Appetit!

Healthy Kids are Confident Kids!

healthy-confident-kidWhen faced with an epidemic, adults mobilize! We gather information, brainstorm possible solutions, confer with experts. We hear daily that there is an epidemic of obesity facing the United States, but what are we doing about it? The media tells us of the problems caused by overweight and obesity. Doctors tell us we need to lose weight. Nutritionists tell us we need to eat healthy food. We are told the bad news and what we need to do, but including our children in the solution is important. If adults are struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle, what is happening with our children? In 2006, one out of every 6 third graders in Ohio was affected by obesity, and by age 5, children have developed a positive or negative body image. But, there is good news out there, and easy steps one can take to increase the lifelong health of a child.

Early childhood educators are responsible for much of what is consumed by young children, and it’s important that they stay informed. When parents were surveyed regarding who they turn to with questions regarding child development, child care providers were in the top 3. Children can be in early care and education programs 10 or more hours a day. Because children admire the adults in their lives and look to them as role models, we can assist children in developing healthy habits while they are young. We can educate parents on the importance of healthy foods and activity. If parents pack lunch for their children, we can ask that they include food from each of the food groups, and supplement when they don’t.

So what can you do? Provide fresh fruit instead of fruit canned in heavy syrup – with meals and at snack time! Offer baked chicken instead of chicken nuggets. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children do not need to be offered fruit juice, so offer children water if they are thirsty and milk at meal times. Make these drinks fun! Put lemon or orange slices in water to add some flavor, or grow mint in a window bed in your classroom and put mint leaves in the water. Research has shown that if children assist in gardening, it increases their competence and confidence.  Children are also more likely to try new food if they have assisted in the growing process. Herbs grow well indoors, but if you’ve got the space for it outdoors, try something like pumpkins or strawberries.

As educators, it is our responsibility to educate the whole child, which includes making sure we are providing a healthy environment and advocating for children to be in a healthy environment no matter where they are, at the program or at home.

Food for Thought

Since the beginning of 2011, I have experimented with being a vegetarian. I call it my “vegexperiment.” I just wanted to see how important meat was to me. Originally, it was going to be only for the month of January, but I have since extended it to February. I’m even keeping a blog chronicling the things I’ve encountered, experienced and observed since starting it.

One of the things I’ve observed is the types of food that are offered for vegetarians. I’m going to be honest with you: they’re at times sub-par. It’s as if a vegetarian is assumed to dislike flavor and substance in their food. I’ve even had people tell me they could never been a vegetarian because they’d get bored with the food or they start listing all the vegetables they don’t like. Not all vegetarian food is boring, though, and there’s more to being a vegetarian than eating just vegetables. I tried my first veggie burger last week and it was really good! I started thinking about the children in our programs whose health, home life or personal preferences create dietary restrictions and what kinds of food we offer to these children to meet their individual needs.

Pretend for a moment that you are on a weight loss diet. You go to a restaurant with your friends and most of the items on the menu are high-calorie, high-fat and the pictures look so good, your mouth begins to water! You find a small section tucked in the bottom right-hand corner of low-calorie, low-fat foods. This section has no pictures and consists of just a few bland, boring items. Would you want to keep true to your diet, given your options? What if the scenario was reversed and the healthier foods made your mouth water because of how they were prepared and presented? Maybe your friends who aren’t on a diet would want to get those foods as well.

According to the Environment Rating Scales, children should be given substitutes for the restricted foods that meet the same nutritional value, such as soy milk as a replacement for animal’s milk to provide protein. My recommendation goes a little bit beyond that. You can provide food that even the children who don’t have the restriction would want to eat, like the second restaurant scenario. It would allow the children a chance to try new types of food. You could even make the “alternative” the primary food, so that the children who have the restriction are not singled out by having special food. If you want to get even more connected with the children in your program, you could invite the families to share recipes they use at home and incorporate them into the food you serve.

Here’s a great snack for school-aged children that is vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, lactose-free, and meets the USDA Guidelines for snacks. The school-agers can even make it themselves!

Chips and Salsa (makes 1 child serving)

  • Mix ¼ cup corn kernels, ¼ cup diced peppers, ¼ cup diced tomatoes with ½ tbsp cilantro
  • Season with chili powder to taste
  • Eat with ¾ cup (6 oz) corn tortilla chips

Do you have any recipes you can share that follow a specific dietary restriction? Please share it below in the comments!