What you can do About Unhealthy Food at Preschool
By Jill Castle, MS, RDN
It’s snack time at preschool. You know that a wonderful learning experience happens for your child at snack time. Your preschooler gets to pour his or her own drink, serve himself or herself food, and eat in a social environment, all of which supports the regulation of appetite, growing independence, and self-efficacy.
But what if the foods served at preschool are unhealthy? What if your preschooler is routinely getting foods that are hyper-colored and based on carbohydrates (think fishies and orange crackers), or worse, loaded with sugar like puddings or packaged cookies? What if the foods offered at preschool don’t add to your child’s nutritional intake, but rather, take away from it?
In today’s world of preschooler nutrition, these are important questions worth asking. According to the 2008 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), preschool-aged children consumed too much sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar while coming up short on their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Another study highlighted eating patterns of preschoolers, finding that up to 1/3 of daily calories consumed by preschoolers were done so at preschool with the remainder mostly consumed at home.
Like many parents, you want your child to eat healthy options like fruits, veggies, dairy, and whole grains. In fact you work hard to establish these eating habits at home. So, what can you do if your preschool is dropping the ball on healthy food?
Speak to the teachers and the preschool director about what a healthy snack is, why it’s important for young children’s bodies and brains, and include examples of desirable foods. Ask for better snack options.
If parents are responsible for bringing in snacks for the class, ask that a letter be sent home detailing the importance of healthy snacks, what a healthy snack contains, and a list of appropriate snack items. Ask parents to provide healthy snack options for the class.
If the school provides the snack, offer to help develop a list of healthy snacks that fall within the school’s budget. This can be tricky, but it is doable. Rather than fresh fruit and vegetables, you may have to substitute dried fruit. Or, you may offer to coordinate volunteers to come in and portion out bulk purchases of vegetables like carrots, or offer to chop and portion fresh fruit and veggies for the class.
Healthy snack options for the preschooler
Whole grain crackers, pretzels
Cheese stick or cubes
Frozen yogurt sticks
Carrots, celery sticks
Bananas, grapes, berries
Oatmeal or fig cookies
Mini fruit-based muffins
Mini bagels with low fat cream cheese
Dry cereal (low sugar variety)
Getting young children started on the right food with nutrition means healthy eating at home and at school. Find ways to help and support your preschool with healthy options for all young children!
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- New Findings from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study: Data to Inform Action.
Department of Health and Children
- Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Pre-School Services.
United States Department of Agriculture
- Health and Nutrition Information for Preschoolers.
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