Hot Topics 2014
A Year of Healthful Eating
Child care providers play an important role in helping children learn to live a healthy lifestyle. This new year why not make a resolution to improve the nutrition and wellness of children in your care? Here are some great ideas to get you started on a year of healthful eating:
- Use the California Department of Education’s Food for Thought curriculum to teach children healthy habits while introducing them to wholesome, healthful foods. This curriculum has 32 lessons to be used year round that incorporate math, science, and literary concepts. Each lesson features a tasty food or recipe of the week.
- Consider planting a garden at your site. Engaging in garden activities helps preschoolers foster acceptance and enjoyment of new fruits and vegetables. Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Grow It, Try It, Like It! Preschool Fun with Fruits and Vegetables . This garden-themed nutrition education kit is for child care center staff. It introduces children to three fruits: peaches, strawberries, and cantaloupe, and three vegetables: spinach, sweet potatoes, and crookneck squash. Introducing a variety of fruits and vegetables in positive, engaging activities increases the likelihood that young children will taste and eat a wider variety of these health-promoting foods.
- Visit USDA’s Recipes for Child Care Providers to add more variety to your menus by using the tasty recipes provided.
- Refer to USDA’s Health and Nutrition Information for Preschoolers for ideas to help preschoolers eat well, be active, and grow up healthy.
- Refer to our Nutrition Tip Sheet for January, Eat Well Year Round, for valuable monthly tips on helping preschools eat well for the year. Parents also may find this tip sheet helpful.
National Children’s Dental Health Month
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, early childhood caries (cavities) is the number one chronic disease affecting young children. Unfortunately, tooth pain can keep children home from school or can distract them from learning when they are in school.
As child care professionals, one way you can help children have good dental health is by encouraging healthful eating habits. Nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals (especially calcium and phosphorous) are needed to help build strong teeth and to help fight tooth decay and gum disease. Be sure to provide a nutritious, balanced diet and limit the amount of foods and beverages with added sugars which can contribute to cavities. You can refer to the Nutrition Fundamentals course for more information on The Nutrients, Their Functions, and Food Sources .
Another way to promote good dental health is to encourage children to take good care of their teeth. Consider inviting a dentist or dental hygienist to talk to the children about proper teeth brushing practices. Check your local dental organization to find out if a speaker is available in your area for your preschool. Or take a look at the American Dental Association’s oral health education program for preschoolers, Shining Smiles for useful ideas on helping children understand the importance of their teeth and how to keep teeth clean and healthy.
For additional helpful ideas on teaching children good oral hygiene practices visit South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Oral Health Teacher Activities for the Early Childhood Classroom . (PDF; 1.3MB)
For parents, share a copy of the February Nutrition Tip Sheet, Healthy Smiles as a handy reference to help keep their children free of dental caries.
Recipes for Healthy Kids
In September 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Recipes for Healthy Kids Competition. In this competition, teams of chefs, students, food service professionals, parents and other community members worked together to develop tasty, nutritious, kid-approved recipes. The teams had the opportunity to submit original recipes that met the nutritional requirements in three categories: whole grain foods, dark green and/or orange vegetables, and dry beans and peas (legumes).
Each recipe submitted had to be taste tested by at least 30 students who participated in the National School Lunch Program. A grand prize winner was selected by a panel of judges as well as a popular choice winner was chosen based on public voting. The top ten recipes in each category have been published in the Recipes for Healthy Kids Cookbook and free print copies for child care centers and homes that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) just recently became available.
Take a look at the Recipes for Healthy Kids Cookbook for Child Care Centers . (PDF; 7.4 MB) Each featured recipe is standardized for 25, 50, and 100 servings and requires no more than 15 ingredients. The recipes in the Recipes for Healthy Kids Cookbook for Homes (PDF; 4.4 MB) are standardized for six servings. They have fun names like Porcupine Sliders and Squish Squash Lasagna. The recipes are kid-tested and approved and highlight dark green and orange vegetables, dry beans and peas, and whole grains. Additionally, all of the recipes are low in total fat, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. They are sure to be an instant hit! How about celebrating National Nutrition Month (March) by trying some of the great recipes in these cookbooks? To order copies, visit the USDA Team Nutrition . When using the recipes for the CACFP, you can refer to the CACFP Crediting Chart (PDF) for the proper crediting information.
Let It Grow!
Spring has sprung and it is a perfect time to consider planting a garden at your site. Whether you decide to plant an outdoor garden or an indoor garden, gardening is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about different nutritious foods and how they grow.
When you start your garden, give the children the opportunity to be a part of the entire process: planning the garden, preparing the soil, planting the seeds, weeding and watering the garden, and picking the vegetables or fruits. Next, plan cooking or tasting activities around the produce that you have harvested.
There are many valuable resources available to help you get started on your garden:
- California School Garden Network provides basic information on how to start and maintain gardens at school sites.
- Farm to Preschool offers nutrition and/or garden-based curricula and showcases programs and resources from around the country.
- Keene State College, Health Science and Early Childhood Education department offers Early Sprouts, a preschool gardening and nutrition curriculum that introduces children to vegetables through a variety of experiences.
- Life Lab offers workshops for educators interested in bringing learning to life in gardens.
- National Food Service Management Institute provides tips on how to garden with young children:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Team Nutrition provides a free down-load for pre-schools to promote gardens and nutrition education called “Grow It, Try it, Like It”
You may also find our April Nutrition Tip Sheet, Gardening with Your Children, full of helpful suggestions.
Try Herbs Instead of Salt
National Herb Week is celebrated the first week in May. This is a great time to introduce children to some different or new flavors by using aromatic herbs instead of salt to season vegetables and other dishes. Because it sometimes takes a little time for children to get used to different or new flavors, here are some ways you can familiarize them with herbs:
- Have an herb taste test. You can start by preparing children’s favorite vegetables, beans, brown rice, or whole-grain breads or noodles with fresh or dried herbs. Then have the children taste and vote for their favorite no-salt additions.
- Cook with the children. Children learn about foods when they help prepare them. Start by having a variety of herbs for the children to see, smell, and touch. Then show them how to change recipes by using fresh or dried herbs instead of salt. For example, have the children help sprinkle dried herbs instead of salt into a pasta salad.
- Start an herb garden. Many herbs can be grown easily in containers or in a garden. Have the children plant the herb garden and watch as it grows. They will enjoy being able to pick the herbs they grew and use them in recipes.
Eating less salt is an important way to help preschoolers stay healthy as they grow. Help preschoolers learn to like foods with a less salty taste while enjoying the extraordinary flavors of aromatic herbs.
Below are helpful resources on how to grow, store, and use herbs:
- National Gardening Association’s Creating Herb Gardens
- National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Grow a Salad! Preschoolers Plant and Prepare their Food and Let’s Learn About Herbs
- University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension’s Fresh Herbs: A Picture of Healthy Eating (PDF; 2.9MB)
- National Food Service Management Institute’s Seasonings (PDF; 8.9MB)
For other useful suggestions to lower salt, check out our Nutrition Tip Sheet, Salt and Sodium.
Active Play Every Day
Children learn to live in a healthful way by moving more and sitting less. Active children have stronger muscles, healthier lungs and hearts, and are less likely to be overweight and/or develop type 2 diabetes. Moreover, some activities, such as running and jumping rope, help bone growth.
In addition to these health benefits, physical activity is associated with developmental benefits. Active play helps children develop motor skills and coordination while they learn how to dance and balance. Children build endurance, strength, and flexibility when they run, climb, or stretch. Additionally, active preschoolers are more likely to be happy and feel good about themselves after learning a particular physical activity.
As child care providers you can promote children’s active play by:
- Planning physical activities every day that are appropriate and safe
- Offering children a variety of options and letting them choose what they want to do
- Participating with the children during active play time
- Focusing on fun, not performance
- Providing opportunities daily for structured and unstructured physical activity
Check out the following resources for more information on physical activity for preschoolers, for ideas on rainy day activities, and for sample lesson plans:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Physical Activity: Young Children
- National Food Service Management Institute’s Rainy Day Physical Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers (PDF)
- SPARK’S Sample Lesson Plans
You may also find Module 4: Active Physical Play of the Preschool Nutrition and Active Physical Play course very helpful and full of great suggestions to keep preschoolers active every day. This module also contains video clips that demonstrate appropriate and inappropriate practices for the classroom.