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Mel Gravely

Tips for Teaching Nutrition in Head Start

In Head Start Performance Standard 1302.46:(ii): Discuss their child’s nutritional status with staff, including the importance of physical activity, healthy eating, and the negative health consequences of sugar-sweetened beverages, and how to select and prepare nutritious foods that meet the family’s nutrition and food budget needs.

How can we help Head Start encourage healthy eating?

Food sets the mood, the saying goes, but what if it sets a bad mood? Mealtime should be enjoyable and even a learning experience, but add a child to the mix and it may be stressful. I’ve seen so many parents (okay, I’ll admit it-myself included!) trying to get their child to eat.

Offer a Variety of Food

Encourage parents to offer healthy choices from their diet. From when your children are young, offer them from the food you eat. Even if it is just on the child’s plate, she will get used to them. A therapist I know had children kiss or lick a new food, just as a tentative introduction. Parents should continue to introduce and reinforce new foods over time. It may take as many as ten tries before a child is ready to taste a new food… and many more tastes before he likes it. Tell parents not to force a child to eat. They should be the role model—show children how they enjoy healthy food. Encourage parents to use nutritious and inexpensive food such as beans to their advantage.

Healthy Snacking

Show parents how to premeasure your food into snack size bags in advance. Instead of letting your kids graze on junk food, they can prepare healthy snacks such as veggies, fruits, crackers, pretzels and other healthy choices in bags so children can grab and go. A shelf or drawer in the fridge can be set aside with healthy options such as yogurt, fruit, veggies, and cheese.

Nutritionists often recommend smoothies for young children. Show parents to freeze overripe fruit in pieces and blend with milk and juice. It is both nutritious and delicious, and works as a meal or snack for reluctant eaters. The banana taste can hide almost anything, so parents can be creative!

Play with Food

Discuss with parents how to be creative. Try shaping the food into a scene or shape. A child will be excited to try veggie happy faces. Be creative-start with bread, pita, rice cake, or crackers. Add a spread – peanut butter, sliced cheese cream cheese or jam. Top with tomato eyes, cucumber nose and pepper mouth. Parents can also use cookie cutters to create original shaped sandwiches.

Involve Children

Everything changes when your child is involved in food preparation. All of a sudden, they need to taste the food. This is a great trick for picky eaters. But how can you encourage your young child to be involved while still staying safe?

Ask parents to allow a child to choose between different meal options. They can ask, “Should we have broccoli or squash for supper tonight?” This will empower the child to eat what they choose.

Toddlers can cut soft fruit with a plastic or butter knife for recipes, under proper supervision. They can “help” by pouring ingredients, open containers, break spaghetti, and peel bananas and tangerines. Ask parents to give everyone a task at the grocery store. This way children are exposed to different foods, textures and smells.

Plant Something

Younger children can dig holes or water plants, and older children can label plant markers. Try a growing workshop, encouraging parents to plant peppers, bean sprouts or cherry tomatoes in a planter. Picking fresh food from the garden is thrilling and may entice children to eat the produce.

The healthy nourishment provided helps each child’s growth and development for life!

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