Food is a main contributor to healthy physical growth and development in young children. What, when, and how a child eats beginning in infancy matters to the nutritional habits they will develop later in life. For educators this can be a fun, but by no means is it an easy task. Cultivating healthy practices for infants and toddlers is the second of 13 sets of major tasks or functions that a caregiver must master to meet the CDA’s Competency Standards. These standards serve as a guide for early care professionals to support young children as they successfully advance from one developmental stage to another.
As part of “Functional Area 2,” early childhood educators must remember that establishing the groundwork for nutritional practices takes consistency, patience, and work with families. Valora Washington explains in the CDA’s Essentials 2nd Edition textbook, “Collaborate with parents and frequently share with them information concerning nutrition, including appropriate ages for weaning and introducing solid foods.”1
When it comes to nutrition, early childhood educators follow licensing regulations set by their states in accordance to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutritional standards. For educators who participate in the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), 2017 updated guidelines are broken down per age group for infants and toddlers. It is essential for educators to obtain training on how to prepare developmentally appropriate meals. Training includes (1) food handling, (2) nutrition, and (3) food allergies.
Once you begin introducing solid foods meal and snack times can become even more fun for infants as they try new foods! The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents wait until [infants are] around six months to introduce solids and counsel about the importance of introducing a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables and fruits, and exposing infants to a variety of textures.”2
According to the USDA, the following feeding guidelines should be considered before and introducing solid foods to infants3:
- Feed babies only breastmilk or iron-fortified infant formula during the first 4-6 months.
- Introduce vegetables and fruits when babies readily accept 2 to 3 tablespoons of infant cereal at each meal.
- Consult with the parents about which vegetables and fruits are being introduced at home so that you can serve the same food at the same time.
- Serve soft-cooked vegetables or fruits to babies between 6 and 12 months and modify the food texture accordingly.
- Progress from pureed to ground to fork mashed and eventually to diced food.
Nutrition plays an integral part of early childhood educators’ overall training in how to interact with infants, toddlers and their parents. Children respond differently to food choices and develop distinct habits as they grow, but educators have the ability to show them new flavors, textures, and varieties of foods while making it a fun experience! Consistent, healthy eating begins when infants are first introduced to solids. Educators can pave the way and work with families to promote healthy nutritional habits when they are not under the care of an educator as well.
1 Washington, V. (2017). Essentials for Working with Young Children (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: The Council for Professional Recognition.
2 American Academy of Pediatrics. (2018). Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/pages/infant-food-and-feeding.aspx.
3 United States Department of Agriculture (2017). Feeding Infants: A Guide for Use in the Child Nutrition Programs. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/feeding-infants-guide-use-child-nutrition-programs.