Early Care Nutrition
Children Need a Healthy Diet
Children need a healthy diet to promote normal growth and development. The foods you offer and the food environment you create can make a big difference in babies’ and young children’s eating habits, food preferences and attitudes toward new foods.
Deciding where to start
Deciding how to approach healthy nutrition for a child or children in your care can be difficult, but it is important to allow children to have likes and dislikes while also encouraging them to eat new foods. Meal planning, incorporating a variety of foods and modeling healthy eating behavior are all good places to start.
Mother’s milk is the baby’s first and healthiest food. Childcare providers play an important role in supporting new moms by encouraging and supporting breastfeeding as long as it is feasible. Providers should speak with families to work together and develop a plan for when solid foods will be introduced to the child.
Breastfeeding has many benefits, including bonding between the mother and baby, and increased immune function for infants. Breastmilk also has the perfect blend of nutrients to benefit the healthy growth and development of new babies into childhood. The MDH Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program offers information useful for all mothers as they plan to breastfeed. Visit the WIC website for more information.
Nutritional Tips for Developing Children
- Limit foods that are high in fat, sugar or sodium such as candy, cakes, ice cream, cookies, some snack foods and processed meats.
- Avoid sugary drinks such as soda, pop, fruit drinks, flavored milks or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Avoid 100 percent juice up until 12 months of age. After 12 months of age, 4 ounces or less of 100 percent juice per day is recommended. Whole fruits are a better option than juices.
- Serve only nonfat or low fat milk to children over 2 years old.
- Introduce vegetables before fruits, so babies acquire a taste for vegetables.
- Introduce only one new food at a time, in order to identify potential food sensitivities.
- Make drinking water freely available to toddlers and preschoolers throughout the day.
- Be aware of and avoid or modify foods that are choking or swallowing hazards such as whole grapes, cherry tomatoes, nuts and nut butter, dried fruits and hard candy.
- Provide healthy food choices at regular meal and snack times, then allow the child to decide how much to eat.
- Turn the TV off during meal times
- Never use foods to bribe, reward or punish a child.
- Be a good role model
- Serve meals family style
- Allow children to decide what to eat and how much1,2
- CDC: Foods and Drinks for 6 to 24 month olds
- AAP Healthy Children
- Minnesota Department of Health: Breastfeeding
- Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Infant and Toddler Nutrition: Foods & Drinks for 6 to 24 Month Olds. Retrieved from CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/InfantandToddlerNutrition/foods-and-drinks/index.html
2American Heart Association. (2018). Dietary Recommendations for Health Children. Retrieved from AHA website at http://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/dietary-recommendations-for-healthy-children