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
- 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