Nutrition and Children
1992 marked a new era for Canada's Food Guide and the U.S.D.A.'s Basic Four Food Groups, both of which were revised to meet the nutritional standards of today's healthy lifestyle.
For example, Canada has added peanut butter to its list of meat and alternatives while the U.S.D.A. has replaced its Four Basic Food Groups with a pyramid of daily portions. Fats, added as a fifth group, occupy the top position on the pyramid indicating the smallest allotment. Grain products on the other hand take up the entire and noticeably larger bottom segment thus illustrating significant differences in recommended daily intake. In addition the U.S.D.A. has added key symbols throughout the pyramid to demonstrate the fat and sugar content of each group.
If these new food guides do anything they remind us that a well-balanced diet is important, especially where children are concerned. Parents are, by nature, conscientious nutritionists when it comes to their family's health. Oh sure, the odd fast food meal slips into the well-planned weekly menu but even the experts concede that in moderation these meals are not really bad. It's what gets (or doesn't get) eaten when parents are not around that is cause for concern. This is particularly so when a child is in daycare for a great portion of the day and meals such as breakfast and lunch are part of that care.
Child Care and Meal Planning
It is important that parents take the time to go over their child's diet with the provider even before they place their child in a center or home. They should ask to see a menu and should look it over thoroughly to ensure it is:
- balanced and nutritious, and
- that their child will enjoy and more important, actually eat what is being served.
Most licensing boards require that weekly menus be posted in a conspicuous place where parents can review them. Although menus are the first indication of a provider's knowledge of nutrition, there are many other things, as the following list indicates, that are part and parcel to providing healthy meals and establishing good eating habits.
Parents should ensure that:
- food preparation areas are clean and well maintained. Cleanliness and good hygiene are vital to reducing the spread of germs and diseases. A solution of nine parts water to one part bleach is a suggested cleanser.
- diaper changing areas are not located close to the food preparation area.
- staff practice good hand washing techniques.
- all eating utensils are rinsed in a bleach solution, then rinsed again.
- baby bottles and other perishable foods are tightly covered, properly labeled and stored in the refrigerator.
- meals are served in small groups and are pleasant and enjoyable, not rushed. It is important for providers to join the children at meal times as this enhances the child/provider relationship, fosters social skills, and enables the provider to properly supervise the group. It is during this time the provider can note the child's food intake.
- their children are being served adequate portions. Most licensing boards require that children who are in a provider's care for three hours be served a snack; for five hours a meal and a snack; for any time thereafter two meals and a snack. Meals should consist of at least one third of the faily recommended portions as per the Food Guide.
- their provider is receptive to them leaving expressed breast milk.
- they are welcome to join their child at meal time or any time.
A child who requires a special diet is of major concern to both the parents and the provider. To be certain the child is eating only recommended food parents should discuss the diet at length with the provider. They may also choose to provide their child's meals and snacks.
Most parents and providers know that a child's appetite varies from day to day just as his or her preference for certain foods changes as often as the wind blows. The best they can do is respect the child's growing independence while at the same time try to find new, interesting foods that the child will like. No easy feat to be sure. But as tempting as it may be sometimes, a child should never be forced to eat.
Canada's Food Guide and the U.S.D.A.'s Food Guide Pyramid are focal points on which to balance meals that help children (and adults too) develop strong healthy bodies and set the premise for good lifelong eating habits. "Bon appetit" as they say.