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Supporting Child Wellness in Early Childhood Education

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Active Early Healthy Bites

I am currently participating in the Wellness Grant in WI. The goal of the CACFP Wellness Grant is to improve the health and nutrition of children participating in child care settings in WI by implementing or strengthening wellness policies in child care institutions.  I think it’s a great program and I’m glad to participate in Supporting Child Wellness in Early Childhood Education.

Physical activity and eating habits develop early, making the ECE setting important. It’s true that on average children under age 5 spend more than 30 hours per week in early childhood settings so ECE professionals can improve child health and wellness by establishing child care program policies within their business practices.

Wellness: Mental & physical soundness, especially when maintained or achieved via a good diet and regular exercise.

Focus Areas for Early Childhood Health:

  • Increase fruit & vegetable consumption
  • Decrease sweetened beverage consumption
  • Decrease food portion size (portion control)
  • Increase physical activity
  • Decrease TV and other “screen” time
  • Increase Breastfeeding

I find these things have been fairly easy to implement in my child care.  Some if it is just about education & awareness  for myself, the children and the challenging part, bringing this education and awareness to families.

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10 Practical ways to improve wellness in child care

1. Serve less {or no} juice. We’re down to serving 100% apple juice twice/week or less for snack time. Milk or water is served at snack time. We have apple slices, Cutie oranges, grapes, bananas, fruit kabobs or applesauce instead.

2. Ban it.  I don’t serve hot dogs, American Cheese, Kraft mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, hash browns/tater tots or fish sticks.(basically anything pre-fried) any canned vegetables or sweetened grains. Encourage parents to bring healthier snacks for celebrations. We’re eating less crackers too.

Supporting Child Wellness in Early Childhood Education

3. More fruits and vegetables. I’ll admit it, I’ve used the excuse “they won’t eat it” for too long. It’s so frustrating to plan a meal, buy it, prepare it, serve it just to throw it in the trash.  We need to change the idea in kids’ heads, parent’s heads, MY head that “kids don’t eat vegetables”. Guess what? If we keep offering it and limit their other options, they will. My group likes peppers, cucumbers, carrots, grape tomatoes, and broccoli. I offer them family style at snack time so they can choose what they want. Yes, I’ve taken pictures for parents because they can’t believe it!  A little low-fat Ranch goes a long way. Winking smile

4. Encourage water drinking. I have a child sized water pitcher & Dixie cups on a tray for the kids to help themselves throughout the day. Yes, we have spills, yes it’s one more thing to have ready each day but yes, it’s important. Not only is it available, I’ve found I need to remind kids that they can & should have some water throughout the day.

water

5. Serve 1% milk {plain, not flavored} milk to children 2 & up. Lots of providers don’t like this switch from whole milk the food program now requires, but I’ve always served 1% for day care. On a rare occasion, I mix up some chocolate or strawberry milk but that’s 2x/year max. I pour small amounts of milk and that is my one expectation, that the kids finish their milk before leaving the table.

6. Skip the treats. I love to bake & I like to celebrate but we have to learn to do it differently, with a focus on fun rather than food. It’s something I have to learn myself. In reality, kids get so many sweets elsewhere so I don’t need to provide it day care. Every holiday is another candy or cookie overload. It’s just too much. I haven’t made cupcakes in ages. I learned a long time ago that kids like to lick off the frosting and leave the rest. What’s the point of that? A good alternative is to make a cracker/cereal/dried fruit snack mix and add in a few M & M’s or colored marshmallows – something some that relates to the season or holiday.  Or focus on the games, crafts and stories instead.

ABC crackers collage

7.  Make a menu. Making a 4-6 week cycle menu saves time. You’ll spend less time planning meals because the menu can be repeated {revise slightly to incorporate seasonal items} and less time shopping when you know what you need. I think it saves money too. I make the list and that’s what I buy instead of “I might need this….” I make and print a 2-week menu. I post one in my kitchen, one by the day care entry for parents to see, it’s posted on my website/FB page, and a printed copy is sent home with each family. Menus also insure that you’re offering a variety of foods.

menu

8. No TV. This is easy for us since we don’t have a TV in our home. I use online resources or DVD’s occasionally and it’s been very occasionally.  The kids never ask for it, they’re too busy doing other things! Screen time isn’t recommended for children under 2. Usually, my group gets bored and is up playing before long and no one’s watching anyway.

9. Teach.  Talk about healthy choices, incorporate nutrition into the curriculum, lead by example. Some kind of wellness education offered at least once a week. Active play time and food should not be used as a punishment or reward.

Supporting Child Wellness in Early Childhood Education Vegetable Soup Craft

10. Focus on active play. I admit, this is the harder area for me. We have to do more than just send the kids outside to play. Licensing requires outdoor play daily so we always do that, weather permitting. YoungStar recommends 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Allowing at least 60 minutes for child-led, free active play each day and incorporating 60 minutes of teacher-led activities throughout the day is challenging, especially with multi-age groups, and all the other facets of the job!

focus on active play

Integrate 120 minutes of physical activity each day with:

  • schedules: schedule it right into the day. Outdoor play, music & movement, physical activity centers
  • transitions: take advantage of all these transitions! Hop/jump/crawl to the next activity to focus on extra movement.
  • lesson planning: integrate physical activity into all curriculum content areas including literacy & math. Consider movement as another method of learning. Plan group activities and provide new materials for free time that encourage movement. I’m working on building my activity resources for indoor and outdoor movement. I will have some ideas to share soon!

Add your ideas & resources for supporting child wellness in the early years in the comments!

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