Child Care Food: What Will My Child Eat?
Good nutrition is important for your child for many reasons. For one thing, proper nutrition is necessary for body growth and development. Without it the brain, nervous system, bones, teeth, muscles, eyes, heart, and lungs will not grow and work as they should. Your child will also learn, think, play, and work with others better if they are eating right. Signs of poor nutrition are restlessness, irritability, and a withdrawn personality. You should be concerned with your child’s nutrition both at home and in your child care situation. To make the most of your child’s nutritional intake, to develop a good food relationship between child and child care provider, and to ensure food safety, you should be able to answer some basic questions about food when you are selecting child care.
Feeding Infants Younger than Six Months
The following questions are important if your child is very young.
If you are breastfeeding:
- Will the child care provider feed your baby expressed breast milk?
- If you store breast milk in breast milk bags, will the provider pour the breast milk into a bottle or should you bring the bottles prefilled with breast milk.
- How are bottles/bags of breast milk stored/labeled to ensure your child receives the correct breast milk?
- Does the child care provider offer support to help you continue to breastfeed when you return to work or school? Examples may include: providing a place for you to nurse your infant if needed, abides by your wishes regarding the use of pacifiers, and does not pressure you to begin weaning until you are ready.
If you are using formula, here are some specific questions to ask:
- Who supplies the formula?
- If you supply the formula, are there guidelines in place so the formula you bring is only used for your infant?
- If the child care provider supplies the formula, what formula do they use? Will they provide a different formula if you prefer another brand or if your healthcare provider recommends a specialized formula?
- How is the formula prepared and stored?
It may also be helpful to know what type of food intake record is kept? It is helpful to know when and how much your infant eats each day. In addition, it is helpful if the child care provider includes any additional information such as wasn’t interested in eating or had more gas than usual after eating.
Are infants held during feeding? Holding an infant promotes a healthy feeding relationship—both physically and emotionally.
Feeding Children older than Six Months
- Does the child care provider support your decision on when and how to start solid foods?
- Who supplies the baby food or beginning solids for your child?
- At what age does your child care provider stop bottle-feeding? Will they follow your decision on when you will stop using the bottle?
- How often are food intake records kept for older infants, toddlers, and preschool children?
- How are menus for babies planned? Is there anyone, such as a dieteitn, who evaluates the nutritional content of the meals?
- Are written menus available? Look them over to see if they have a variety of nutritious foods included in them.
- What foods are served? Are they similar to food you serve at home?
- What happens if your child does not like or will not eat the food provided?
- Are snacks provided? If so, how often and what types of snacks are served.
Safety should also be considered in your evaluation of child care facilities. Consider the following questions.
- Is the kitchen and eating area visibly clean?
- Who prepares the food? If a different person prepares the food ask to meet the person who prepares the children’s food. Ask him or her if he or she receives on-going training in food safety or in food preparation for children. You may also be interested in learning what recipes and ingredients are used.
- Does the child care provider monitor temperatures of food during storage and preparation?
- Is the food prepared on-site or off-site? The advantages of having on-site food preparation is that there is less chance of contamination of the food and there is more flexibility in feeding times.
- How are dishes cleaned and sanitized? A dishwasher with a very hot water rinse, a boiling water rinse sink, or a disinfectant rinse for dishes helps to keep down the spreading of illnesses and microorganisms.
- What is done with leftover breast milk, formula and baby food?
Recommendations for breast milk:
- Any breast milk left in the bottle after the child is done eating should be discarded.
- Refrigerated breast milk that has not been given to a baby, should be used within 48 hours (2 days) according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Recommendations for formula:
- Any formula left in a bottle after feeding should be discarded.
- Prepared formula that has not been given to a baby should be refrigerated and used within 48 hours (2 days).
- Discard any formula that has been left out for more than 2 hours.
- Unused powdered formula may be kept tightly covered and used within one month.
Recommendations for baby food:
- Baby food should always be served from a dish other than the jar it came in. If the child does not eat it all, the food should be discarded.
- Baby food in an open jar should be used within 48 hours (2 days).
It is important that you feel comfortable leaving your child in the child care situation you have selected. In addition to your child’s feeding, you also need to consider the relationship that you develop with your care provider. You may have some very specific ideas on how you want your child fed. You need to be assured that the provider will carry out your wishes as much as possible. Communication is very important between provider and parent.
Visit the child care setting during mealtime so that you can evaluate the following: how the children are fed, the feeding environment, the amount of food and the manner in which it is served to the children, and whether food is used as reward or punishment. Food should be served in a positive environment without reward or punishment.
The feeding relationship between parent, provider, and child needs to be comfortable and consistent. Always remember that the role of a parent and a child care provider is to provide a variety of nutritious food for the child. It is then the child's role to determine how much and what to eat. It is not the role of the parent or provider to force-feed the child. When selecting care for your child be sure to consider nutrition, food safety, and the kind of feeding relationship you would like to have between you, your child, and the child care provider.
Healthy Food and Beverage Resources for Parents (320 K PDF) — You need at least 6-8 glasses of fluid each day, but not all beverages are created equal.
Communicating With Your Provider — Good communication is the key to a positive child care experience for you, your child and your child care provider.