Food in Child Care: Check It Out!

by Roberta Duyff, MS RDN FAND American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 3rd ed. (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006), 408.

Food in Child Care: Check It Out!

Warm and caring staff, a safe environment, opportunities for development and self-expression – that's what most parents look for when they choose child care. If you look for child care, rank good nutrition, food-safety standards and active play high on your checklist, too. If your child has a food allergy or needs to avoid any food for religious or other reasons, find out how that's handled.

Consider the importance of the food served. A child may eat two or more meals and snacks in a child-care facility, so the nutritional quality must be high. Since a young child is developing eating skills and food attitudes that will affect long-term health, the overall eating environment is important, too.

A child-care setting offers many opportunities for spreading illness: food service, diapering, toileting and close contact with others. For this reason, cleanliness and safe food handling are "musts." Infants and young children have immature immune systems; they're more vulnerable to catching a cold, flu or other illness from others.

To help establish a lifelong habit of active living, children regularly involved in child care need a program with safe, fun and developmentally appropriate ways to move more and sit less. Choose a program that makes active play a priority. Besides health, active living teaches social skills and helps develop body skills.

As you choose child care, these factors suggest high standards of cleanliness, nutrition and active play:

Food preparation and storage areas

  • Neat and very clean
  • Properly labeled and well-covered foods
  • Adequate refrigeration and heating equipment
  • Perishable foods stored in the refrigerator

Hand-washing area

  • Child-size sinks, or safe stepping stools for adult-size sinks
  • Soap and paper towels

Mealtimes and snack times

  • Meals and snacks with a variety of foods from the five food groups of MyPlate. (Most child-care settings have specific guidelines and menus; ask to see them.)
  • Tables and chairs appropriately sized for children's comfort, or high chairs or booster seats
  • Child-size utensils and covered cups with spouts to help young children master their feeding skills
  • Adult supervision at snacktimes and mealtimes and adequate staffing for feeding infants and children with special needs

Diaper-changing and toilet areas

  • Very clean
  • Located away from food, eating and play areas
  • Closed containers for soiled diapers, tissues and wipes
  • Daily removal of soiled items
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About the author:

Roberta L Duyff MS RDN FAND

Roberta Duyff, MS RDN FAND

Author of "Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, Fourth Edition" and "365 Days of Healthy Eating from the American Dietetic Association" (both published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey).




  • Cook healthy

    Involve your child in the cutting, mixing and preparation of all meals. Even a snack can be healthy.

  • Eat right

    Sit down together as a family to enjoy a wonderful meal and the opportunity to share the day's experiences with one another.

  • Shop smart

    To encourage a healthy lifestyle, get your children involved in selecting the food that will appear at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table.

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