Planning Healthy Menus Helps Ensure Healthy Children

Cheri M. Gioe, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  4/19/2005 10:28:28 PM

News You Can Use For June 2004 

The licensing requirements for child-care facilities are based on the idea that good nutrition leads to healthy children, so they naturally require facilities to provide healthful meals and snacks, says LSU AgCenter associate Cheri Gioe.

"Louisiana Class A licensed child-care facilities are required to provide meals and snacks to children attending full-time programs," Gioe explains.

In addition, Gioe says many child-care programs participate in the Federal Food Program – providing free or reduced lunch fees for children. While that program limits the children who can participate, its guidelines and those provided in child-care licensing requirements generally benefit all children, Gioe explains.

For example, the criteria for Class A licensing require that all children be fed every 2½ hours to 3 hours.

"Abiding by this policy usually means children should receive two meals and at least two, if not three, snacks daily," Gioe says, adding, "That means they generally are going to have breakfast and lunch, as well as mid-morning, mid-afternoon and possibly late-afternoon snacks."

Of course, a key ingredient in those meals and snacks is appropriate nutrition, experts point out.

"Currently in the United States, due to food choices, children are at a high risk of becoming overweight," Gioe says. "So it’s important to remember that food choices for child-care programs should reflect Food Pyramid guidelines.

"Children need foods that are good sources of nutrients. Menus should include plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and low-fat food choices served with milk or juices, and processed foods should be limited."

The LSU AgCenter child-care associate also points out young children develop eating habits by watching others eat.

"Through foods offered and watching adult choices, children form their eating habits for life," she says, offering these suggestions to keep in mind when providing meals for young children – particularly in a child-care environment:

–Meal times should occur routinely at the same times each day.

–Provide a variety of nutritious foods served appealingly.

–Generally, children like mild-tasting foods that are neither too hot nor too cold.

–Children often choose foods based upon their color. Food presentation can be the key to children making healthier food choices.

–Allow children to be actively involved in meal planning. Let children help decide on menus, select foods, shop, and prepare meals and snacks.

–Children should be allowed to make acceptable food choices.

–The United States is suffering from super sizing. Young children’s appetites may vary from day to day. Children should be offered small portions and may ask for second helpings should they desire more.

–Meals should be served in a designated area with tables and utensils that are appropriate for the children being served. Food should be arranged and served so that children can easily manage and chew the food and avoid choking.

–Caregivers should never associate punishment with food or mealtimes.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children suggests that meals at child-care facilities be nutritious and served family style, with caregivers dining with the children.

"Caregivers should engage children in stimulating, positive conversations and model proper eating behavior," Gioe says, adding, "Children should be allowed to serve and pour and encouraged, but not forced, to taste all foods offered or chosen.

"Family style dining fosters the idea that meal time should be fun and interactive."

The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.


Contacts: Cheri Gioe at (225) 578-6701 or
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

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