Child & Adult Care Food Program
Meal time is more than just feeding kids
Not only does a caregiver have to decide what to feed children, but also how children are fed. How caregivers offer children nutritious foods and the meal time environment can affect what foods children eat, how much they eat and how they feel about food, eating, themselves and others.
Children are not likely to develop a healthy diet unless they are surrounded by healthy food choices. Children are also not likely to develop a healthy attitude toward food and eating if they do not experience meal time as a positive, nurturing time.
You want children to get the nutrients and calories they need for growth and development. Children have small stomachs and usually can't eat much in one meal. That is why it is important that the foods they are offered are nutritious and that they are also offered nutritious snacks between meals.
You want children to learn about foods and nutrition. Children need to learn how to make good food choices for themselves. They also find learning fun. A good way to teach children about food and nutrition is by involving them in food preparation.
You want meal time, like the other activities children engage in throughout the day, to contribute toward children's self-esteem. Two important factors in building children's self-esteem are feelings of control and competency. To feel some control, children need to be allowed to choose and make decisions for themselves. This is especially important in matters that have to do with their own bodies. For example, they should be able to choose what foods to put in their bodies and when their bodies feel full. Children should be allowed to choose from a nutritious selection of foods, what and how much they eat.
To develop a sense of competency, children must be allowed to experiment and manipulate things in their world. For example, children should be allowed to serve themselves as soon as they are developmentally capable. They must be allowed to make their own messes and mistakes and learn to recover from them.
You want meal time to be a pleasant and enjoyable experience for both you and the children. Meal time should be a time of shared conversation, of social and emotional bonding. Children should leave the table satisfied both physically and emotionally. They should be relaxed and ready to move to a quiet activity or nap.
Adapted from: Promoting Wellness, Save the Children Child Care Support Center