Purchasing should assure the best possible meals

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Purchasing should assure the best possible meals

Purchasing the best quality foods with the highest nutritional value to assure that children get the best meals possible is a challenge.

Child care programs must show that the best foods were provided at the best price to comply with federal guidelines. Grocery advertisements are not necessarily a reliable guide. Advertised items can be misleading. Those bargains don’t reflect everyday prices, which make up the bulk of child care centers’ buying.

The best way to make sure that food items are bought at the lowest possible cost is to make a supermarket price comparison once or twice a year. List some of the standard items purchased every week. Then visit the stores where shopping could be done and compare prices.

Make a similar comparison once or twice a year, and keep results on file. The price comparison file also eliminates any possible conflict of interest. Any facility that gets taxpayer dollars is subject to close scrutiny.


To develop your shopping list:

  • plan the menus

  • list the ingredients needed for the menus planned

  • inventory the food on hand

  • make a shopping list of additional foods needed for the week’s menus

Having decided which store to buy from, compare the price of the different brands and sizes of product. Most supermarkets publish this information on the shelf tag, giving the “per ounce” price. If that information is not shown, make comparisons. Divide the price by the number of servings in the package shown on the Nutrition Facts label.

Except for specials, the largest package usually has the lowest per serving cost. Store brands generally are less expensive than name brands and can be equal in quality. Generic items are the least expensive, though the quality may not be the same.

The best buy depends not only on price but also on the nutrient content of foods. A nutrition label must be provided on all processed foods. Nutrition Facts shows amounts of nutrients in that particular food so the buyer can compare brands and choices.

The ingredient list also provides useful information. Ingredients are listed in descending order based on weight. The closer an ingredient is to the front of the list, the more of that ingredient the product contains.

Just because foods have the word fruit, meat, cheese or vegetable in the name doesn’t make it so. Fruit candy, meat pies and vegetable casseroles often contain only tiny amounts of the ingredient in their names. Read the list of ingredients and pay attention to the order in which they are listed. Select those foods with desired ingredients.

Source: What’s Cooking, Volume 3, Number 2, National Food Service Management Institute, University of Mississippi, used with permission.

Improving your pantry

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Improving your pantry

Many of you who have been preparing meals are becoming more aware of how you are preparing and serving food, so that it is healthier for your participants. When we say “healthier,” we mean that you are using low fat cooking methods like baking, boiling, steaming and serving fewer fried foods, more fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat milk and more whole grain products. We want to encourage you to continue preparing and serving food in a way that limits fat, salt and sugar.

To get to the point of preparing and serving healthy food, the first step in EATING right is BUYING right. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for improving your pantry:

White flour

Add whole grain flour to your grocery list. You can actually combine a 50-50 mix of white flour and whole wheat flour and use it the same as you would white flour. When the whole wheat and white flours are mixed together, it’s more convenient to use, and it improves the fiber content of everyone’s diet.

Whole wheat bread

When buying whole wheat bread, the first ingredient will read “whole wheat flour.” If it says anything like “enriched wheat flour” or “unbleached wheat flour” that is just another name for “white flour.” If white flour is listed first, it will not be a whole wheat product. Many brands of dark bread have caramel coloring added to make the bread appear to be whole grain. Don’t be mislead, read the ingredient label to know for sure.

Canned vegetables

To help reduce salt, drain and rinse canned vegetables. Restock your freezer shelves with a variety of frozen vegetables. If you prefer the taste and texture of canned vegetables, purchase the no added salt vegetables.

Canned fruit

Drain heavy syrup from fruit and rinse lightly before serving. When you restock your pantry, look for fruit packed in fruit juice, light syrup or water. This will help reduce the amount of sugar being served. Take advantage of seasonal fresh fruit to replace some of the canned fruit that is being served.

Pancake mixes

If you buy mixes, look for the mix where you have to add milk, eggs and oil. You can control the kind and amount of ingredients that you add in these mixes. On the other hand, a “complete” mix already has the milk, eggs and fat added in and all you do is add water. It may be a little easier, but you then have no control over cutting back on the fat and cholesterol in the product.

Crackers and cookies

Look for reduced fat and/or low salt crackers and reduced fat cookies. If you make your own cookies from scratch, you may be able to adjust the amount of shortening and sugar to reduce the fat and sugar content.

Dairy products

Almost every dairy product now has a fat free or low fat alternative. If the local grocery store does not carry these products, ask the store manager to order a small amount; it may become a popular item at the grocery store.


When buying meat, keep in mind where the meat came from. The areas of the animal that have the most muscle will be the leanest. Select cuts of beef from the loin and round and select extra lean ground beef. lean cuts of pork would also come the loin and tenderloin, and from the leg, where ham comes from. For veal and lamb, the same information applies.

When buying processed meats, 1 gram or less of fat for every 30 calories can be used as a general rule to ensure that lean meats are selected. Also read the labels when trying to limit sodium, as different brands of the same product may vary in nutritional value.


Select skinless poultry products or remove the skin during preparation. Ground turkey and poultry can be quite lean if only a limited amount of fat has been added during the grinding process. Read the labels of processed poultry items like chicken patties and nuggets to ensure that they are lower in fat than the regular items.


Fish is generally low in fat, so preparation and recipes need to be reviewed to see that fish is still low in fat by the time it is consumed. Buy tuna packed in water instead of fat. Look for lower fat versions of processed fish items.

Watching what you buy is a good place to start to make your meals and snacks healthier.

Source: Food Technology , June 1995

Meal substitutions for medical or other special dietary reasons

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Meal substitutions may be made for medical or other special dietary reasons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a revision in its FNS Instruction 783-2 regarding meal substitutions for medical or other special dietary reasons.

In addition to the required meal pattern, CACFP institutions are required to provide substitutions to the standard meal patterns for participants who are considered handicapped under 7 CFR Part 15b and whose handicap restricts their diet. It also permits substitutions for other participants who are not handicapped but are unable to consume regular program meals because of medical or other special dietary needs.

Institutions are required to offer program meals to participants with disabilities whenever program meals are offered to the general populations served by the program. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) imposes requirements on states which may affect centers and sponsors, including the service of meals even when such service is not required by child nutrition programs.

Centers and sponsors may also have responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The following link is the complete version of FNS Instruction 783-2:

Accommodating Children With Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition Programs

The role of the caregiver at meal time

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

The role of the caregiver at meal time


  • Encourage the children to try each food component.
  • Sit down with the children while they eat.
  • Encourage pleasant meal-time conversation. All meal-time conversation does NOT have to be about food.
  • Emphasize proper table manners.
  • Make meal time a pleasant time
  • Assure that each child is served a reimbursable meal.
  • Fill out meal count sheets at the point of meal service.


  • Hovering
  • Badgering
  • Cajoling
  • Forcing children to eat
  • Withholding snack for disciplinary reasons
  • Making children “clean their plate” of a food they may not like before providing seconds of a food component they do like. Every child is entitled to receive the full regulatory portion of every meal.

Related articles:

Should we force children to eat or reward them for cleaning their plates?

Adults Serve an Important Role at Meal Time

Power struggles: meal time is not a battleground

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Power struggles: meal time is not a battleground

“Clean your plate! No dessert until you eat your vegetables! If you behave you can have a piece of candy.”

Do these phrases sound familiar? Before you say them again, stop and think about the negative effect such words may have on the child’s eating, turning meals and feeding into a battle which nobody wins.

Parents and caregivers pressure children about eating with good intentions. They want the best for the child – so he or she can grow strong and healthy. Research has shown that when adults pressure children about eating, they don’t eat well or grow as well.

Forcing or pressuring a child to eat can take on many different forms. Forcing is counterproductive because it takes away the option of not eating. An infant should not be forced to nurse faster or more slowly than their natural tempo. Forcing can be stopping a child from eating with their fingers or offering a bribe or praise for eating certain foods.

Children use the meal time for showing their independence. Sometimes food isn’t the issue at all. Eating is just one more way children learn about the world. They use battles about food to test their independence.

Most children are picky about what they eat at some point in their early years. The issue may be a dislike of the food or an issue of control. When a child refuses to eat something we’ve prepared, we may feel personally rejected.

It’s important to offer the child some choices regarding food selection when practical. Don’t become a short order cook. Instead, try asking the child, “Would you like peas or carrots with lunch today?” or “would you like your milk in the blue cup or the red cup?”

When a child senses that a parent or caregiver is concerned about his or her eating, the child may use food to manipulate them. It’s a sure fire way to get attention. The less of an issue you make about food the less of an issue it becomes. All you need to do is provide a variety of healthy and nutritious foods and leave the rest up to the child.

Don’t worry about one day’s nutrition. It is not a problem if a child nibbles only a few grains of rice at one meal or eats nothing but bananas for an entire day. Studies have found that when children are offered a balanced diet over the long term they will usually eat everything they need for good health.

Source: Managing Mealtime Madness , Provider’s Choice, Inc.

Meal time is more than just feeding kids

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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

Manners are a must for young children

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Manners are a must for young children

Many adults find themselves at formal dinners, in restaurants or as dinner guests without the knowledge of skills necessary to correctly use eating utensils. It can be very embarrassing to grab the wrong fork or napkin, especially if others at the table have this knowledge and skill.

Each culture has its own rules for dining. In some countries, the meal is served on one very large platter, everybody eats from that platter and uses their hands. Even in these countries there are very strict rules of table etiquette. In many countries, knives, forks and spoons are not the utensil of choice. Can you eat with chopsticks? The Oriental populations consider it very important to know and practice good table manners.

While this topic is on the fringes of food, nutrition and health, it is appropriate to begin teaching the do’s and don’ts to young children. As you expand their horizons with stories and experiences from other places in the world, you can point out the differences in table manners. Pictures of various types of meal service will be helpful.

Setting the table

The plate goes in the center of the place setting. The fork(s) and napkin go the left of the plate; the knife goes to the right of the plate with the blade of the knife turned toward the plate. Spoon(s) go the right of the knife. The glass and or cup goes to the right of the plate, just about an inch above the tip of the knife.

Good table manners

When the meal starts, each person should take their napkin and place it in their lap. One hand should remain in the lap throughout the meal except when it is being used to cut food. Elbows should never rest on the table.

The fork is held in the dominant hand. Young children usually grasp the fork in the fist, but as children develop the use of their hands, they should be taught to hold forks and spoons with the thumb, index and middle fingers.

Take small bites, and chew each bite thoroughly before taking the next bite. Never talk with food in the mouth and always chew with the lips closed. If food gets on the outside of the mouth, use the napkin to wipe it away, don’t lick.

People should see you eat, not hear you eat. This means that slurping, smacking guzzling, sucking the teeth and belching are good examples of bad manners.

Soup should be sipped from the side of the spoon. The whole soup spoon should not go into the mouth.

When children gain the ability to cut their food with a knife and fork, the correct way to do this should be demonstrated and children should be helped and allowed to practice until they are able to do it. Meat is difficult to cut and requires a sharp knife, so children should begin by cutting pancakes, waffles and vegetables.

Correct place settings should be provided for young children as frequently as possible. Usually a child’s place contains only one knife, one fork and one spoon. Adults who provided only a spoon or a fork to children at meal time are missing the opportunity to teach children how to correctly use these utensils.

Source: Food and Nutrition Bulletin , Maryland State Department of Education

read more about table manners

These are links to some web sites that may be of interest to the users of the Nutrition Services web site. This is not meant to be a comprehensive listing of sites. You will be leaving the Nebraska Department of Education server when you follow these links. These links will open in a new browser window so you can continue viewing the Nutrition Services site. The Nebraska Department of Education Nutrition Services office does not endorse products; links to commercial sites are for information purposes only.

Table Manners for Toddlers – FamilyFun.com

Lesson Plan on Table Manners – from Barney and Friends

Managing meal time menaces

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Managing meal time menaces

As a caregiver, you want to provide good food for the children. You know that the food you serve may be the only food that some children get that day. Also, you are helping to form habits that will last a lifetime. You know your job is very important. You try hard to do it well. But it can be very frustrating when the little ones don’t greet all your good work with open arms and well-mannered cheers for more.

Children have individual needs and feelings about food. Some children eat just about everything while others don’t seem to like anything. Some children like to eat a little bit, many times a day. Others eat a lot at once, but only want to eat twice a day. Some children eat quickly and some pick at their food.

The toddler and preschool years, when children are between one and six years old, can be a very frustrating period. It helps to remember that it is a busy time for the children. They learn many new things. Toddlers learn to walk, run and climb. They learn to make things happen as they want them to happen. They learn to separate themselves from the adults in their lives.

They show us they are growing up by saying “no” often. They are learning to eat, but they spill and drop a lot. They choke more easily than older children. It is the job of the caregiver to help children to be successful and independent. It is the adult’s job to set limits and teach them.

Naturally, we want the children to eat well and to develop good eating habits. We know that eating does more than just help the body to grow. At all ages, eating should be a pleasurable experience, one enjoyed by both the baby or child and the adult. Eating provides the basis for a warm and trusting relationship. Eating with the children, including them in pleasant conversation at meal time, will help make eating about more than just food. The children will feel warmth and love. They will feel secure.

To help this happen, we need to set the stage so that children can eat and enjoy their meals and snacks. We need to get good food into the house, get a meal on the table, and provide satisfying snacks. We should try to do it all in a pleasant and loving way. Once that is done, we can let go of it. Turn the rest over to the children and trust them to do their part. Children will eat and only they know how much food to eat.

If we haven’t set the stage for pleasant meals, children probably will have difficulty at meal time. If children are too tired from lack of sleep or too much play time, they will not take an interest in eating. if a meal is thrown together at the last minutes, rushed or hurried, it does not promote pleasant and happy eating. If others are fussing at each other or grabbing a bite and rushing to the television or other places, children are not likely to focus their attention on eating. We need to set the stage for a pleasant meal time.

Sometimes, even after our best efforts to provide a tasty, beautiful, peaceful meal, the children do not eat. It is not unusual for preschoolers to have times when eating doesn’t interest them. When children are active and growing steadily, a small appetite is nothing to worry about.

In short, the way to get a child to eat is not to make a big deal out of it. Children vary in how much they eat, what they like to eat and their love of eating. Trouble may result when adults try to control these factors. 

2   3   continued

Tips for preventing food hassles

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Tips for preventing food hassles

“Clean your plate.”
“No dessert until you eat your vegetables.”
“If you behave, you can have a piece of candy.”

For parents and caregivers, these phrases probably sound familiar. Food should be used as food, not as a reward or punishment. In the long run, food bribery usually creates more problems than it solves.

Adults often view a child’s odd food and behaviors as a problem. Childhood food binges, food strikes and other unusual habits are usually a part of normal development.

Children use the table as a stage for showing their independence. Sometimes, food isn’t the issue at all. The eating process is just one more way children learn about the world.

Here are some common childhood eating situations. Try these simple tips to make meal time a more pleasant experience.

Situation: A child will eat one and only one food, meal after meal (food jags).
Solution: Allow the child to eat what he or she wants if “jag” food is wholesome. Offer other foods at each meal. After a few days, the child will likely try other foods. Don’t remove the “jag” food, but offer it as long as the child wants it. Food jags rarely last long enough to cause any real harm.

Situation: A child refuses to eat what’s served (“Short Order Cook Syndrome”)
Solution: Have bread, rolls or fruit available at each meal so there are choices that the child likes. Be supportive, set limits and don’t be afraid to let the child go hungry if she or he won’t eat what is served. Which is worse – an occasional missed meal or a parent or caregiver who is a perpetual short-order cook?

Situation: A child wants to watch television at meal time.
Solution: Turn off the television at meal time. Meat time television is a distraction that ruins social interaction and interferes with a child’s eating. Value the time spent together while eating. Often it is the only time during the day when the whole family is together.

Situation: A child will only eat bread, potatoes, macaroni and milk – “The Great American White Food Diet.”
Solution: Avoid pressuring the child to eat other foods. Giving more attention to finicky eating habits only reinforces the demands for limited foods. Continue to offer a variety of foods. Encourage a taste of red, orange or green foods. Eventually the child will move on to other foods.

Situation: A child refuses to try new foods – “Fear of New Foods.”
Solution:  Continue to introduce and reintroduce new foods over time. It may take many exposures to a new food before a child is ready to taste it and a lot of tastes before a child likes it. Encourage, but don’t force, children to try new foods.

Parents and caregivers act as “gatekeepers,” controlling what foods come into the house. Having lots of healthful food choices available eliminates the need for you to be a “food dictator” at meal time. Limit the undesirable foods you serve. This helps children understand that healthful food choices are a way of life.

Prepare children to be ready for meals. A five-minute warning before meal time lets them calm down, wash their hands and get ready to eat. A child who is anxious, excited or tired may have trouble settling down to eat.

Consistent food messages encourage children to eat and help prevent arguments over food. Try these simple steps:

  • Be a smart gatekeeper: buy only the foods you want the child to eat.

  • Don’t worry if the child won’t eat any of his or her food.

  • Set an example by eating good foods.

  • Let children make their own food choices from the good choices you provide.

It’s important to keep a clear division of responsibility when feeding youngsters. Children are the best judges of how much they should eat. Parents and caregivers are not responsible for how much a child eats or even whether a child eats.

Here are five important feeding jobs for parents and caregivers:

  • Buy healthful food.

  • Serve regular meals and snacks.

  • Make meal times pleasant.

  • Teach good manners at the table.

  • Set a good example.

Happy encounters with food at any age help set the stage for sensible eating habits. Handling food and eating situations positively encourages healthful food choices.

Adapted from: Feeding Kids Right Isn’t Always Easy, American Dietetic Association

Should we force children to eat or reward them for cleaning their plates?

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Something to think about . . .

Should we force children to eat or reward them for cleaning their plate?

by Connie Stefkovich, R.D., former Administrator, Nutrition Services

When your center applied to the Nebraska Department of Education to participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), you agreed to provide children with meals that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations. The center’s responsibility for those meals ends when the child is served a meal. USDA regulations do not require that children consume the food.

Nutrition Services has received numerous complaints about teachers and aides who make children taste all foods, eat minimum amounts of foods or clean their plates. These practices are not recommended. How many adults would frequent a restaurant in which they were forced to eat everything they ordered?

“You can’t control or dictate the quantity of food your child eats, and you shouldn’t try.” This is the opening statement in a chapter of Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter, R.D. According to Ms. Satter, children are remarkably able to regulate the amount of calories they need for maintenance and growth. If a child takes in fewer calories at lunch because he or she eats only a few bites, he or she will probably eat enough at another time to make up the difference.

Your CACFP program will be more beneficial to the children if the atmosphere is pleasant and relaxing. A teacher or aide forcing children to take “one more bite” adds stress. It appears that younger children are most often the ones who are forced to eat more than they want.

A subtle form of forcing children to eat is also occurring. When children are rewarded with stickers or points for cleaning their plates, they are, in essence, being forced to eat. Children need to follow their bodies to determine how much they want to eat instead of eating to please an adult.

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