By Tatiana Tucker, Child Care Program Specialist, Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families
As America wrangles daunting issues, no challenge is more urgent than protecting the health and safety of our children—now, and as they grow.
Over the past four decades, we have witnessed childhood obesity grow to epidemic proportions. More than 12.7 million children and adolescents are obese or overweight. That’s roughly one child in every three. This September, join the Office of Child Care in observing National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
The Office of Child Care within the Administration for Children and Families is very committed to the health and safety of children. When parents are busy at work all day, early care and education providers play a critical role in maintaining a child’s health and safety. Many children are in early care and education settings for several hours during the day, which means this can be the primary environment for children to eat, play, and grow. By modeling healthy eating and physically active lifestyles, early care and education providers can set our children on the road to a lifetime of good habits.
Here are some examples and tips that early care and education providers have already done and can continue to do to promote healthy eating and physical activity in their settings:
For All Early Care and Education Providers
- Collaborate with programs in your area and use community resources. Look for other sponsors or groups in your area with an interest in addressing childhood obesity, healthy eating, well-being of children, etc. They may want to help provide support.
- Turn teaching concepts into movement for children. For example, providers who might want to teach letter recognition could post letters on the wall in the classroom as targets for bean bags with letters on them.
- Eat together and make nutrition fun. At the table, serve meals family style so kids get to choose what they want to eat and how much to serve themselves. Talk to the kids in your care about which foods belong to which food group –fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, or dairy.
- Keep it simple. Try simple recipes like roasted veggies, bean soup, or baked chicken. You don’t need a recipe with a lot of ingredients to create a delicious dish. Plus, when you choose a simple recipe, you can spend more time teaching kids to prepare healthy foods and enjoying your meal together. Find an assortment of meal and snack ideas on KidsHealth.org.
For Family Child Care Providers
- Make menu planning a group activity. Brainstorm meal ideas with the children and decide what’s on the menu for the week. This helps to make sure that everyone will be happy with the meal choices. Try bringing the kids in your care together and encourage them to come up with meals and snacks that use nutritious ingredients and fruits and vegetables in season.
- Take kids on grocery store trips. When heading to the grocery store, take the children in your care with you. To get ready for the trip, kids can make their own grocery lists of healthy foods and glue together pieces of construction paper in different colors. At the store, they get what’s on their lists and hunt for a vegetable or fruit that matches each of their colors (like purple cabbage, red peppers, orange tangerines, and yellow squash). Encourage them to be adventurous – try pointing out vegetables and fruits they haven’t tried yet.
- Bring kids into the kitchen. When kids get to be chefs, they want to know what their food creations taste like. They might be delighted at the taste of fruits and vegetables and proud of what they’ve made! Remember, kids should wash their hands before they touch the food!
The fight against childhood obesity gains momentum in September and the results can last a lifetime. All children deserve a healthy start in life; it’s our responsibility to make that possible.
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