Providers - Healthy Eating
Healthy eating is important for people of all ages, but it is especially critical for the growth and development of infants and young children. Healthy eating not only helps children to feel good physically and mentally and to do well in school, it also:
- Can prevent health problems such as iron-deficiency anemia, obesity, under nutrition, eating disorders and early childhood cavities.
- Lowers risk factors for serious illnesses such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Reduces the risk of developing serious diseases such as heart disease, some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis.
The sooner children learn to eat nutritious foods in the right amounts, the better their health tends to be, not just in childhood, but throughout their lives. For American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children, healthy eating behaviors are even more important because of the increased health risks experienced by AI/ANs. Proper eating and exercise can be a first defense against obesity, type 2 diabetes and early childhood caries (ECC), a form of early dental cavities.
What exactly is a healthy diet for children? According to the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture, a healthy diet:
- Includes a variety of foods, in which all the food groups are represented.
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
- Includes three to four servings of whole grains a day. One serving equals ½ slice of bread or ¼ cup of pasta or rice.
- Includes five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. One serving equals ¼ cup cooked vegetables, ½ cup raw leafy greens, ½ of a small piece of fresh fruit or ½ cup of juice.
- Includes five servings of dairy products a day. One serving equals ½ cup of milk, a one-inch-square cheese cube or ½ cup of yogurt. (Children under 2 years of age should only drink whole milk.)
- Includes three servings a day of lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. One serving equals 1 ounce of meat, 1 egg or ½ cup cooked beans or peas.
Foods can also be classified in three groups:
Go foods - These healthy foods can be eaten almost anytime.
- Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
- Whole-grain breads and tortillas
- Whole-grain pasta and brown rice
- Skim and 1% milk, fat-free and low-fat yogurt, and part-skim and reduced-fat cheese
- Fish and shellfish (without added fat); lean beef and pork trimmed of fat; skinless, white-meat chicken and turkey; beans and lentils
Slow foods - These foods are not entirely off-limits, but they should only be eaten sometimes.
- Vegetables cooked with added fat
- White breads, rice, pasta, taco shells and oven-baked fries
- Ginger snaps and fig bars
- 2% milk, processed cheese, low-fat ice cream
- Whole eggs cooked without fat
Whoa foods - These foods are high in calories and fat, and low in nutritional value. They should only be eaten every once in a while.
- Bacon, sausage, hot dogs, pizza, salami, bologna, fried chicken, fried fish
- Whole milk, full-fat cheese, full-fat ice cream
- Full-fat salad dressings, mayonnaise and gravy
- Cookies, cakes, brownies and pies
What can you do in your center to promote healthy eating?
- Follow appropriate menu planning set by Head Start Performance Standards.
- Conduct nutrition assessments and discuss each child's food allergies, eating habits and special dietary needs with his or her family.
- Review height and weight charts and refer children to a nutritionist if problems such as underweight or overweight are observed.
- In part-day centers, serve meals and snacks that provide 1/3 of children's daily nutritional needs. In full-day settings, serve meals and snacks that provide 1/2 to 2/3 of children's daily nutritional needs.
- Ensure that all applicable federal, state, Tribal and local food safety and sanitation laws are followed, including those related to food preparation, handling and storage.
- Ensure that centers serving infants have facilities available for the proper storage of breast milk and formula.
- Learn how to use MyPyramid for serving guidelines and menu planning. MyPyramid.gov [link to http://www.mypyramid.gov/] is a great source of information for both children and caregivers. It includes games, quick tips, menu planners and other information that teach the basics of proper eating.
Check out these links to learn more about healthy eating.
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