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The Importance of Good Nutrition in Early Child Development

By Amanda Caraway, Community Engagement Manager |

Because March is National Nutrition Month, we thought it would be a good time to highlight the importance of Nutrition in early child development and how ClackCoKids develops our healthy meal plans for the classroom.

Having a well-balanced, nutritious diet is important for everyone, but it’s crucial for young children. During the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday) healthy nutrition is necessary to support rapid brain development, a strong immune system, and other essential functions. In addition, healthy children are better able to learn. Good nutrition gives children more energy and the ability to focus and develop their physical and social skills.

As a Head Start and Early Head Start program, ClackCoKids receives funding from the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program, which has strict guidelines regarding nutrition. The guidelines break down the five components of food that create a healthy diet: fruit, vegetables, grains, proteins, and milk. We serve all children in our programs breakfast, lunch, and a snack each day.*

Here is our guide for meal planning:

  • Breakfast includes milk, fruit, and a grain or protein
  • Lunch includes all five components
  • Snacks include two of the five components

Learn more about the 7 ways to provide healthy nutrition for children with this flyer

Our nutrition team ensures that each child gets one wholegrain-rich item daily. In addition, we follow a seasonal cycle which is the most efficient and healthy way to enjoy fresh produce and foods. The team aims to serve organic produce, and they incorporate a variety of foods to expose children to new fruits and vegetables. Studies show this is an important part of encouraging lifelong healthy eating habits, and children need to be exposed to a new food 10-12 times before they learn to like it.

And speaking of learning, ClackCoKids strives to make mealtime educational as well as nutritious. That’s why lunch is always served as a family-style meal with communal bowls that are passed around the table. The children get to portion out their own food, with necessary help from their teachers, and learn about the food while they are serving it. Teachers are encouraged to ask children about the food while they are serving themselves and eating. Giving children adjectives to describe foods can help them identify how they think about food.

The practice of having children serve themselves rather than being handed plated food has more benefits. It helps with the development of fine motor skills and kids are more likely to try new foods if they serve themselves. In addition, it is important to prepare foods in many different ways to grow their exposure.

But the nutrition team is just getting started when it comes to helping kids learn about food. Eventually, they plan to help teachers add nutrition into other parts of the curriculum. The vision is to feature different vegetables each month. For example, showing kids different colors of beets in their natural form, teaching them different ways of preparing the beets, and having them try beets throughout the month. This will be paired with things such as books about a certain vegetable and other activities.

*This institution is an equal opportunity provider.