Healthy Eating And Fitness For Young Children - At Home And In Child Care

|Parents And Guardians - Are You Aware Articles
Niki Smidt

December 22, 2003

An important part of helping your child be ready for school success is making sure your child gets healthy meals and snacks and regular physical activity at home and in child care. Follow the simple guidelines and tips below at home, and talk to your child's caregiver about healthy eating and physical activity.

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating means choosing foods from all the food groups that will provide the nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber) needed for strong bodies and minds. It also means paying attention to portion and serving sizes. Portion sizes and servings should be smaller for children than for adults.

The basic food groups are:

  • Protiens (meat, poultry, fish, dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds)
  • Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Grains (bread, pasta, oatmeal)
  • Vegetables (everything from asparagus to zucchini)
  • Fruits (everything from apples to watermelon)

For more information on the many varieties of foods and the recommended daily requirements, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture's  website that has the Food Pyramid and other helpful nutritional information. You can also ask your family physician for nutritional guidance.

Try these tips to help your children eat healthy:

  • Talk about it. Teach your children about the different food groups and how important it is to eat a variety of good foods.
  • Eat together as a family. Practice what you teach. Parents serve as role models for developing lifelong habits.
  • Limit or eliminate foods with sugar. Candies, pastries, soft drinks.
  • Give younger children small portions. Let them ask for more if they want more.
  • Give younger children five or six mini-meals a day. They have smaller stomachs. It may be an easier way to make sure they get a variety of foods throughout the day. The whole family may want to try this as well. Small throughout the day can prevent overeating and high-calorie snacking.
  • Provide nutritious snacks. Fresh fruits, low-fat cheese, and cereal with low-fat milk.
  • Limit eating at fast food restaurants. Fast foods are typically high in fat.
  • Don't expect a clean plate. This can lead to overeating.
  • Try a variety of low-fat cooking recipes. Find healthy foods your children will love.

Fitness Fun

Along with eating healthy, parents will want to make sure their children are physically active. Eating and physical activity go hand-in-hand. The body was meant to be nourished and it was meant to move. Watch young children and you will see how natural it is to run, skip, and jump. If your children are already physically active every day, encourage them to continue. Try these tips to help your children get moving:

  • Let your infant roam around, safely, as much as possible. Limit time in strollers and playpens.
  • Make sure your children get outside to play at least 20 to 30 minutes everyday.
  • Plan weekly family outings that involve being outdoors. Go biking, swimming, or play catch.
  • Have a variety of fun equipment that promotes fitness: bouncing balls, basketballs, soccer balls, jump ropes, badminton, hula hoops, and bicycles.

Healthy Child Care

Talk to your child's caregiver about healthy eating and physical activity. First, you will want to make sure you have any dietary restrictions or requirements in writing to avoid miscommunication. In addition, you can share these kinds of articles with your child's caregiver, and encourage practices that support health and nutrition. For example, find out if children are being fed family style. Family style eating is ideal, because it allows your child to practice pouring and serving, and enjoy social time with the caregivers and adults.

Also ask about and observe the types of physical activity your child is getting at child care. Even babies need opportunity to move around and be outside every day!

When you partner with your child's caregiver for nutritious eating and physical activity routines, you are giving your child a healthy start to school success.

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