Welcome to Preschooler Feeding Scenarios. This brief module is offered as a complement to early care and education college courses that cover health, safety, and nutrition. It's not meant to be exhaustive, but simply to highlight important best practices and key information, as well as to provide you with additional resources.
Today we're going to cover these important topics that often come up when child care providers are considering best practices for feeding preschool aged children. These include meal patterns, family style meal service, parent provided meals, and picky or fussy eating behaviors.
In Connecticut, as in many states, licensed child care centers and group daycare homes are required to follow the Child and Adult Care Food Program's meal patterns. This applies whether or not you participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program and whether you provide the foods or families provide the foods. It can be helpful in meeting this licensing requirement if you can pass along information to families about the meal patterns. We'll touch on this more a little bit later.
You may be wondering what the reasoning is behind this rule. It's quite simple really. Child care programs that follow the CACFP meal pattern provide more nutritious meals for children. You're more likely to meet their nutritional needs. So let's take a look at the meal pattern for preschoolers in more detail.
For all meals, that's breakfast, lunch, and dinner, milk is required as one of the meal components. Milk must be unflavored and low fat or skim. Toddlers are allowed whole milk, but starting at age two, children should switch to low fat or skim milk. Nutritionally equivalent substitutes are allowed based on special dietary requirements that are documented by the child's health care provider.
In addition to three fourths of a cup or six ounces of milk at breakfast, the breakfast meal pattern also requires a half cup of a fruit, a vegetable, or some combination that adds to a half cup and a half ounce serving of a grain.
Over the course of a day, at least one grain should be a whole grain, such as whole wheat. Whenever possible, offering whole grains is nutritionally beneficial. And a final note, to three times a week, one ounce of protein, such as an egg or cheese, can be substituted for the serving of grains. For lunch and dinner, the meal pattern is the same.
Again, three fourths of a cup or six ounces of unflavored low fat or skim milk, and one and a half ounces of meat or a meat alternate, such as cheese or beans, and a half ounce of grain, preferably whole grains. With the vegetable and fruit, You can offer a quarter cup of each or you can offer a half a cup of vegetable and skip the fruit.
Snacks have a bit more flexibility in that any two of the five food groups can be offered with a little note that milk can't be offered when juice is being offered as the fruit component. Also, fruit or vegetable juice should be full strength, not diluted, in order to count as a serving. Some examples would be thin sliced carrots and hummus as the half cup of vegetable, with a half cup of low fat milk, or a black bean, tomato, and corn salsa as the vegetable, and whole grain tortilla chips as the grain.
The Connecticut Child and Adult Care Food Program website, linked in the resources, has a great sample snack menu with some ideas in it as well. Family style meal service, if you're not familiar with it, is when the food is brought to the table in serving bowls all at one time for children to serve themselves rather than pre plating as in a cafeteria style meal service.