From the day a child is born, almost every parent worries, at some time or another, about their child’s eating habits. Is he/she getting enough to eat? Why is he/she such a picky eater? Why does he/she only want to eat one type of food? Childcare providers also feel responsible to make sure that children in their care are eating a healthy and balanced diet.
Regular visits to the pediatrician can help dispel these fears. As long as a child makes satisfactory height and weight gain progress, you’re doing okay. The doctor can also help you manage any food allergies that a child may develop in the early years.
But, the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country makes it imperative for parents and caregivers to establish good eating habits with their children from the start. This means making the intake of “empty calories” from high-sugar foods a “once-in-a-while” thing.
There are many online resources that provide excellent nutrition information for parents and caregivers of young children. More available than your doctor, and always there when you need them.
Basic Information for Zero to Six's
Feeding Your Newborn simply explains the basics of feeding an infant before they start on solid food.
First 5’s Nutrition and Exercise - Tips for Parents and Caregivers briefly hits the most important things to remember. Also available to read in Vietnamese (PDF).
MedlinePlus's Infant and Toddler Nutrition page provides the most up-to-date information on nutrition for young children and articles on topics such as spitting up, organic baby food, and infant formula.
KidsHealth from the Nemours Foundation gives you age specific information on feeding a young child.
- One- to Three-Month Old
- Four- to Seven-Month Old
- Eight- to Twelve-Month Old
- One- to Two-Year Old
- Toddlers at the Table: Avoiding Power Struggles
- Strategies for Feeding a Preschooler
More reading on nutrition:
- Infants – Giving Your Baby the Very Best Nutrition (Birth to 5 months) (PDF). Also in Spanish (PDF).
- Helping Your Baby Grow (6 to 11 months) (PDF). Also in Spanish (PDF).
- Toddlers – Helping Your Child Learn about Food (1-2 years) (PDF). Also in Spanish (PDF).
- Preschoolers – Teaching Your Child about Food (3-4 years) (PDF). Also in Spanish (PDF).
- Helping Your Child Eat Healthy Foods & Be Ready to Learn (5-7 years) (PDF). Also in Spanish (PDF).
- Eat and Read: A Nutrition Booklist: Having trouble getting your child to eat her peas? Drink her milk? Sometimes reading a book about food is just the thing to encourage a reluctant eater. Reading about food can’t help but make you hungry!
Growing Up Eating Healthy (And Enjoying It)
Children can more easily maintain good eating habits throughout their life if the habits start early. Use these simple posters to teach yourself and your children how to be good eaters.
Learn seven simple steps including trying new foods and enjoying family meals, to Start Your Preschooler on the Path to Healthy Eating (printable PDF).
Ease concerns about how much your young child needs to eat everyday by consulting Healthy Eating for Your Preschooler (printable PDF). You will find necessary food quantities determined by the child’s age, as well as important safe feeding tips for children under four.
My Pyramid for Kids (printable PDF) is a simplified version of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) food pyramid which shows us how to eat healthy.
Make a trip the the grocery store an enjoyable learning experience for a young child with these tips on "Reading and Language at the Grocery Store" from PBS Parents.
Food Preparation and Snacks
Planning what to serve those little children three times a day plus snacks EVERY DAY can be a challenge. Use these resources for help and inspiration.
- Not all baby food comes out of a jar. It is simple and easy to make it yourself. Making Your Own Baby Food (PDF). Tells you what foods to include and avoid, what equipment to use and how to prepare food safely. It also includes recipes.
- Stuck on what to make for breakfast? For lunch? For dinner? KidsHealth gives you a long list of kid approved recipes including many for children who are vegetarians or have conditions such as lactose intolerance, diabetes, and celiac disease.
- Meals Matter provides features that make planning healthy meals easier, such as nutrition articles, recipes, personalized cookbooks, shopping lists, and a meal planner to help plan meals over time.
- Reading Food Labels. Learn to understand the “nutrition facts” by Reading Food Labels (printable PDF) and make healthier food choices for your family.
- Try some of Cef LaLa's "Yummy for Your Tummy" Recipes (PDF). There is also a version in Spanish.
Snacks are a fact of life for young children and their parents and caregivers. Toddlers and preschoolers are still growing fast, and need small amounts of nourishment throughout the day to keep up with their busy lifestyle!
Here are ideas and tips for Snacks for Toddlers and Preschoolers.
For quick healthy snacks you don’t have to cook, for at home or on the go, take a look at Healthy Snacks for Home and School (printable PDF). Printed out, it’s the perfect size to post on your refrigerator, both as a reminder to you on what to give your child for a snack, and as a shopping list.
Need Help Buying Food
Local and national programs are in place to help families in need of groceries. They include: The Second Harvest Food Bank (click on “Get Food”); and USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs, including the Food Stamp and the Women, Infants, and Children programs.
For Childcare Providers
Childcare providers and preschool teachers will find it helpful to use Physical Activities and Healthy Snacks for Young Children (PDF), an online set of recipes for snacks paired with books to read aloud (borrow them from the library!) and simple exercise routines.
Menu Magic for Children (PDF) gives daycare providers meal patterns in monthly and yearly increments for children from birth to twelve years, menu planning help, menus with grocery lists and recipes.
Childcare providers who care for infants who are breastfeeding will be interested in Preparing and Storing Breastmilk In Your Home Child Care Program (PDF).