All parents know that their child’s nutrition is first and foremost in their development as they grow into a toddler and beyond. There are numerous authorities claiming to know the formula for early childhood diets that help to give your child a head start both mentally and physically as they bloom. But does what you choose to nourish your infant with at home translate to their time at daycare?
This begs the question: What foods should be served at daycare?
The answer not only varies from parent to parent but from daycare to daycare as well. That being said, some of the most broadly held nutritional beliefs for early childhood diets are put forth by the USDA, based upon religious beliefs, and, of course, alternative diets focused on exclusion or enrichments. A daycare facility must incorporate all three of these approaches in its attempt to satisfy the needs of every child and parent.
USDA Guidelines Set The Standard
Just as with the nutritional guidelines for adults, the USDA sets standards for babies, infants, and toddlers as well. The CACFP (or child and adult care food program) was enacted in 1968 by the USDA to improve the health and wellness of children in care establishments through the provision of healthy foods. The most significant update to the program came about in 2016 when the program was amended to safeguard the health of children early in their lives through restrictions on what care facilities can and can not serve as food options. According to the USDA these new guidelines are recommendations set forth by the National Academy of Medicine, but also take cost and practicality into consideration.
The new standards are meant to encourage a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while excluding processed sugars and saturated fats. The new amendment also encourages breastfeeding and better aligns the program with other child healthcare programs.
Furthermore, the USDA has set about guidelines for healthy meal times as well as what should be served at each to encourage a child’s ability to make healthy choices. They go on to explain that these meal times are different for infants (0-5 months and 6-11 months), toddlers (1-3 years) and children (3-5 years and 5-13 years). The expanded chart regarding acceptable meals and meal periods can be found here.
The major updates to the meal guidelines for children 1-13 years of age include the following:
- The combined fruit and vegetable component of a meal is now separated into an individual fruit and vegetable. A meal must now contain both.
- Fruit and vegetable juices are now limited to once per day.
- At least one serving of grains per day must be whole grains. A grain based dessert no longer counts towards this requirement.
- Expanded protein options are now acceptable. Tofu and meat alternatives are now approved and can also replace a serving of grains.
- Regulations regarding added sugars have been increased to include stipulations on grams per serving in yogurts and cereals.
- Unflavored milk is now a must. Whole unflavored milk is now the only milk option for children one year and younger. Unflavored low-fat and fat-free options may be provided for children 2-5 years of age.
- Non-dairy substitutes may now be served to children with dietary restrictions as long as they are nutritionally equivalent to milk.
- Additionally, frying foods is now longer allowed as a way of preparing food on-site.
Finally, the USDA set a list of best practices to accompany the new meal period and nutritional guidelines. These are listed herein:
- Breastfeeding mothers are encouraged to provide breast milk to the daycare or are provided a sanitary, private room to breastfeed on site.
- Utilize fruits or vegetables as snack options.
- Serve whole fruits as opposed to fruit juice to satisfy the requirement.
- Provide a variety of greens and vegetables including legumes, red, orange, and green vegetables as well as starchy vegetables.
- Provide two servings of whole grains per day.
- Only serve lean meats, nuts and legumes as protein options.
- Processed meats are only permitted once per week. Pre-fried foods are only permitted once per week.
- Serve only natural cheeses and unflavored milk.
- Incorporate seasonal and locally sourced products as much as possible.
- Avoid serving foods that are sources of added sugars such as jams, jellies, honey, fruit and cookie toppings, juices and sodas.
- Make water available as much as possible as a way to encourage healthier choices.
As we all know, religious beliefs play a role in defining a person’s values and traditions, but religion can also influence dietary practices as well. A care provider in a daycare facility must be privy to the varied diets of different religious faiths in order to effectively nourish children of families with varied belief systems. Furthermore, a care provider must cleverly work in a child’s mandated nutritional requirements whilst navigating through those beliefs and how they pertain to food.
Here is a quick reference breakdown regarding how some of the major faiths approach dietary restrictions.
- Buddhism – Buddhists follow the simple mantra to “do no harm.” This translates to food in the way that many Buddhists lean towards a sort of vegetarianism which allows for animal products but not the direct consumption of meat.
- Christianity – With Christianity there are no specific mandates for dietary restrictions, however, there are certain periods during religious holidays that fasting and the omission of certain foods, like red meat, are required.
- Hinduism – Hindus follow a lacto-vegetarian diet which allows them to consume dairy products but vegetables make up the rest of their diet entirely. There are also more frequent periods of fasting which include new moon days, holy days, and festivals.
- Islam – under Islamic law foods must prepared halal. Much like kosher foods, halal employs a series of rules and regulations regarding the way that animals are dispatched for consumption and how foods are prepared and stored.
- Judaism – As mentioned before, foods prepared under the guidelines of Jewish law are referred to as kosher. This means that they have been handled in a certain way throughout the supply chain from start to finish. There are also rules regarding the storage of foods and the omission of pork and shellfish entirely. Much like other religions, Judaism celebrates some holy holidays by fasting.
- Rastafarianism – Rastafarians follow the rule of I-Tal which is a mandate for clean eating. Animals that are scavengers are prohibited from consumption and fish must only be twelve inches or less. Pork and shellfish are also omitted. The combination of these restrictions result in many Rastafarians turning to veganism and vegetarianism.
Alternative Views vs. Mandated Nutrition
As stated at the beginning of this piece, views on the dietary needs of babies and infants vary from parent to parent. Topics such as how long should breastfeeding go on, when to switch to solid food, and should babies be raised on plant-based foods are all hotly debated.
When the choice is made to go outside of the normal mandated guidelines for food consumption the thing to keep in mind is that the nutritional intake must be equivalent regardless of what foods are being excluded. Speaking in regards to this topic Pediatric’s Child Health Journal stated “…appropriate caloric intake should be ensured and growth monitored. Particular attention should be paid to adequate protein intake and sources of essential fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins B12 and D. Supplementation may be required in cases of strict vegetarian diets with no intake of any animal products. Pregnant and nursing mothers should also be appropriately advised to ensure that the nutritional needs of the fetus and infant are adequately met. Recommendations are provided. Adolescents on restricted vegetarian or other such diets should be screened for eating disorders.” Absolutely some food for thought when considering minimizing the variety of foods a child can consume and something that a childcare provider must adjust to for children with these requirements.
There have been many discussions and articles on the subject of breastfeeding, its benefits, and also, alternatives for mothers who either can not or decide not to breastfeed. Studies have shown that breastfeeding, even for a short period of time, can significantly increase a child’s immune system and problem solving skills as they grow older. That being said, it is not uncommon to extend the period of time for breastfeeding anywhere from a year up to four years of age. It is ultimately up to the mother and child to decide what is right for themselves.
For those that decide not to breastfeed or that can not do so, there are other alternatives that can be considered. These include formulas, substituting whole cow’s milk or even goat’s milk! Yes, goat’s milk. According to a study done in Australia, scientists have found that goat’s milk is actually the closest to human breast milk. Goat milk formula has been shown to contain much of the same benefits as mother’s milk and may soon be a staple of daycare facilities alongside other formulas.
As you can see, there is much to take into consideration when thinking about what foods to supply at a daycare. Though the USDA does much of the heavy-lifting in regards to setting the guidelines for a child’s nutritional needs, there are many other factors that go into what ultimately ends up on the table. At the end of the day, the health and wellness of the child is the ultimate goal and there is more than one way to achieve it!
- What are some of the benefits of goat’s milk formula?
Goat’s milk contains much of the anti-infection and prebiotic properties of human breast milk
- What is the average age to start weaning a child off of breastfeeding?
Six months of age is the average time to begin weaning a child
- At what age should solid foods be introduced to a babies diet?
Semi-solid food can be introduced at 6 months of age and progress varies from child to child.
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
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