Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.7 Nutrition Learning Experiences for Children and Nutrition Education for Parents/Guardians

4.7.0 Nutrition Learning Experiences for Children

The facility should have a nutrition plan that integrates the introduction of food and feeding experiences with facility activities and home feeding. The plan should include opportunities for children to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to make appropriate food choices.

For centers, this plan should be a written plan and should be the shared responsibility of the entire staff, including directors and food service personnel, together with parents/guardians. The nutrition plan should be developed with guidance from, and should be approved by, the nutritionist/registered dietitian or child care health consultant.

Caregivers/teachers should teach children about the taste, smell, texture of foods, and vocabulary and language skills related to food and eating. The children should have the opportunity to feel the textures and learn the different colors, sizes, and shapes of foods and the nutritional benefits of eating healthy foods. Children should also be taught about appropriate portion sizes. The teaching should be evident at mealtimes and during curricular activities, and emphasize the pleasure of eating. Caregivers/teachers need to be aware that children between the ages of two- and five-years-old are often resistant to trying new foods and that food acceptance may take eight to fifteen times of offering a food before it is eaten (14).

Nourishing and attractive food is a foundation for developmentally appropriate learning experiences and contributes to health and well-being (1-13,15). Coordinating the learning experiences with the food service staff maximizes effectiveness of the education. In addition to the nutritive value of food, infants and young children are helped, through the act of feeding, to establish warm human relationships. Eating should be an enjoyable experience for children and staff in the facility and for children and parents/guardians at home. Enjoying and learning about food in childhood promotes good nutrition habits for a lifetime (17,18).
Parents/guardians and caregivers/teachers should always be encouraged to sit at the table and eat the same food offered to young children as a way to strengthen family style eating which supports child’s serving and feeding him or herself (19). Family style eating requires special training for the food service and early care and education staff since they need to monitor food served in a group setting. Portions should be age-appropriate as specified in Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) guidelines. The use of serving utensils should be encouraged to minimize food handling by children. Children should not eat directly out of serving dishes or storage containers. The presence of an adult at the table with children while they are eating is a way to encourage social interaction and conversation about the food such as its name, color, texture, taste, and concepts such as number, size, and shape; as well as sharing events of the day. These are some practical examples of age-appropriate information for young children to learn about the food they eat. The parent/guardian or adult can help the slow eater, prevent behaviors that might increase risk of fighting, of eating each others’ food, and of stuffing food in the mouth in such a way that it might cause choking.

Several community-based nutrition resources can help caregivers/teachers with the nutrition and food service component of their programs (16-18). The key to identifying a qualified nutrition professional is seeking a record of training in pediatric nutrition (normal nutrition, nutrition for children with special health care needs, dietary modifications) and experience and competency in basic food service systems.

Local resources for nutrition education include:

  1. Local and state nutritionists/RDs in health departments, in maternal and child health programs, and divisions of children with special health care needs;
  2. Nutritionists/RDs at hospitals;
  3. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Supplemental Food Program and cooperative extension nutritionists/RDs;
  4. School food service personnel;
  5. State administrators of the Child and Adult Care Food Program;
  6. National School Food Service Management Institute;
  7. Healthy Meals Resource System of the Food and Nutrition Information System (National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture);
  8. Nutrition consultants with local affiliates of the following organizations:
    1. American Dietetic Association;
    2. American Public Health Association;
    3. Society for Nutrition Education;
    4. American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences;
    5. Dairy Council;
    6. American Heart Association;
    7. American Cancer Society;
    8. American Diabetes Association;
    9. Professional home economists like teachers and those with consumer organizations;
    10. Nutrition departments of local colleges and universities.

Compliance is measured by structured observation.

Following are select resources for caregivers/teachers in providing ongoing opportunities for children and their families to learn about food and healthy eating:

  1. Brieger, K. M. 1993. Cooking up the Pyramid: An early childhood nutrition curriculum. Pine Island, NY: Clinical Nutrition Services.
  2. Cunningham, M. 1995. Cooking with children: 15 lessons for children, age 7 and up, who really want to learn to cook. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  3. Goodwin, M. T., G. Pollen. 1980. Creative food experiences for children. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest.
  4. King, M. 1993. Healthy choices for kids: Nutrition and activity education program based on the US Dietary Guidelines. Levels 1-3 and 4-5. Wenatchee, WA: The Growers of Washington State Apples.
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Health, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Safety Awareness Written Nutrition Plan Socialization During Meals Participation of Older Children and Staff in Mealtime Activities Experience with Familiar and New Foods Nutrition Education for Parents/Guardians Food and Nutrition Service Policies and Plans
Appendix C: Nutrition Specialist, Registered Dietitian, Licensed Nutritionist, Consultant, and Food Service Staff Qualifications
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start. 2009. Head Start program performance standards. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Start Program/Program Design and Management/Head Start Requirements/Head Start Requirements/45 CFR Chapter XIII/45 CFR Chap XIII_ENG.pdf.
  2. Hagan, Jr., J. F., J. S. Shaw, P. M. Duncan, eds. 2008. Bright futures: Guidelines for health supervision of infants, children, and adolescents. 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  3. Holt K, Wooldridge N, Story M, Sofka D. Nutrition Education/ curriculum for, aspects of. In: Bright Futures: Nutrition. Chicago, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2011: 10, 55
  4. Wardle, F., N. Winegarner. 1992. Nutrition and Head Start. Child Today 21:57.
  5. Benjamin, S. E., ed. 2007. Making food healthy and safe for children: How to meet the national health and safety performance standards – Guidelines for out of home child care programs. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: National Training Institute for Child Care Health Consultants.
  6. Dietz, W., L. Birch. 2008. Eating behaviors of young child: Prenatal and postnatal influences on healthy eating. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  7. Kleinman, R. E., ed. 2009. Pediatric nutrition handbook. 6th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  8. Lally, J. R., A. Griffin, E. Fenichel, M. Segal, E. Szanton, B. Weissbourd. 2003. Caring for infants and toddlers in groups: Developmentally appropriate practice. Arlington, VA: Zero to Three.
  9. Endres, J. B., R. E. Rockwell. 2003. Food, nutrition, and the young child. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.
  10. Stang, J., C. T. Bayerl, M. M. Flatt. 2006. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Child and adolescent food and nutrition programs. J American Dietetic Assoc 106:1467-75.
  11. Pipes, P. L., C. M. Trahms, eds. 1997. Nutrition in infancy and childhood. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  12. William, C. O., ed. 1998. Pediatric manual of clinical dietetics. Chicago: American Dietetic Association.
  13. Tamborlane, W. V., J. Warshaw, eds. 1997. The Yale guide to children’s nutrition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  14. Sullivan, S. A., L. L. Birch. 1990. Pass the sugar, pass the salt: Experience dictates preference. Devel Psych 26:546-51.
  15. Murph, J. R., S. D. Palmer, D. Glassy, eds. 2005. Health in child care: A manual for health professionals. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  16. Benjamin, S. E., D. F. Tate, S. I. Bangdiwala, B. H. Neelon, A. S. Ammerman, J. M. Dodds, D. S. Ward. 2008. Preparing child care health consultants to address childhood overweight: A randomized controlled trial comparing web to in-person training. Maternal Child Health J 12:662-69.
  17. Ammerman, A. S., D. S. Ward, S. E. Benjamin, et al. 2007. An intervention to promote healthy weight: Nutrition and physical activity self-assessment for child care theory and design. Public Health Research, Practice, Policy 4:1-12.
  18. Story, M., K. M. Kaphingst, S. French. 2006. The role of child care settings in the prevention of obesity. The Future of Children 16:143-68
  19. Dietz, W. H., L. Stern, eds. 1998. American Academy of Pediatrics guide to your child’s nutrition. New York: Villard.