By Anthony Smith
How much time do you spend thinking about, preparing and cooking the meals for your child? As parents, we strive to do what’s best for our children and often that starts with meals. What to feed your child is one of the first major decisions a parent makes and then before you know it, your bundle of joy has an opinion of their own on what they want to eat. Regardless of the time and consideration you may have put into planning and making your child’s lunch, whether or not they eat it, is a whole other story. Then there’s the fact that Grandparents, babysitters and child care centres seem to have a significantly higher success rate of convincing your two-year-old to eat whatever is put in front of them. How do the centres do it – what’s their secret and how do they get a fussy-eating toddler to eat at day-care what they won’t at home.
1. The Menu
Food provided in child care has an important role to play in the growth and development of children and in the development of their future eating habits. Most parents should be able to take comfort in knowing that a significant amount of toddlers’ daily nutrition requirements are being met by their long day childcare centre. Check for displayed menus to show a variety of foods such as vegetables, fruits, cereals, lean meat, fish, chicken, milks, yoghurts and cheeses. Make sure your child has easy access to plenty of water and check to see if milk is also provided throughout the day.
2. Age Appropriateness & Variety
Most centres will ensure the menu includes food that is appropriately sized and textured for the age and ability of the child. Children with special dietary requirements due to food allergies, cultural background or medical condition should also be catered for – ensuring the centre works together with these families to meet the specific needs of the individual child. Variety of food also plays an important factor. Plates should be loaded with a few different foods from the menus, allowing the children to explore a new food – pick it up, touch it and smell it – so that it becomes more familiar to them. It can take up to fifteen attempts before a child gets used to a new taste.
3. The Power of The Masses
Children learn from an early age to follow and mimic those around them. Often times a sour reaction to a new food is just a knee-jerk reaction to the unknown. So when toddlers see their friends happily eating the variety of food offered at a child-care centre, they often follow along.
Finally, when children gather together to eat and drink, staff should create an atmosphere that is relaxed and home-like. It is also seen as an opportunity for social interactions and language development. Meal and snack times are happy, social occasions that promote healthy eating habits. Food always looks better when your best friend is eating it too.
Just remember – Working together with childcare staff can positively reinforce healthy food messages and eating habits for your child.
– Anthony Smith is the Chief Operating Officer of an Australian childcare management company, Guardian Child Care. As a parent himself, Anthony recognizes the importance of providing quality childcare for children where they are able to thrive and in an educational and nurturing environment.