Obesity. Whole grains. Skim milk. Exercise. Consumers are bombarded with information regarding nutrition and exercise, However, it is critical that parents and child care providers know the basic guidelines. Child care providers are often responsible for providing as much as half of the food a child receives each day. Since the first few years of a child’s life are critical for brain development and growth, it is extremely important to help children form good, lifelong habits related to eating and exercise.
What can caregivers do to ensure healthy eating habits?
- Serve a variety of foods that include all needed nutrients
- Be sure fruits and vegetables make up about half of the meal
- Serve skim or 1% milk for children over two years of age
- Limit the amount of juice served
- Make water available at all times
- Use whole grain foods as much as possible
- Vary protein choices to include some seafood
- Check fat, sugar and salt content in all meals and snack foods
Involving children in meal preparation is a good time to talk about good food choices, not to mention teaching cognitive and motor skills through counting, measuring, reading, and following directions. And don’t forget to work with parents so that they can follow through at home.
Closely related to healthy eating habits is physical activity. Young children love to move, so use their energy in positive ways. They should be physically active inside and out at least two hours every day. If inside space is limited, plan reaching, swaying or bending activities along with marching or running in place. Incorporate soft materials for active play, including bean bags and under-inflated beach balls. Create age-appropriate manipulative equipment from household items: yarn balls, cardboard boxes, and sock puppets. Use music for dancing and start-and-stop games or for cooling down after active play. For outdoor play, plan walks, field trips and yard games to encourage children to enjoy the many textures, colors and sounds of each season.
Throughout the day, parents and caregivers need to model the behaviors they seek to instill. Eat the same foods at the same time as the children. Sitting down with them is the best way for child care providers to show not only what and how much to eat, but also good table manners and positive ways to interact with others. Caregivers need to model physical activity as much as possible by demonstrating movements and games. Throughout all play, encourage positive language, sharing and problem-solving. Also, incorporate different motor skills and cognitive learning, such as counting jumps and identifying colors of leaves. Above all, check all equipment and play spaces for safety hazards on a regular basis.
Children are developing a full range of skills from day one, so every experience is a learning experience. Learning environments enriched with a variety of foods, manipulatives, and active play are key in laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy choices.
Have a Great Day!
(*Article reprinted from past Enrich Community newsletter.)