Habits established in early childhood last a lifetime. We know that ages 5 years and under are particularly critical in developing healthy behaviors and attitudes towards food and physical activity. What can child care providers do to encourage healthy habits? That’s as easy as ABC…
We often say, “Everyone needs 1 hour of physical activity every day,” but best practices in early childhood care call for even more active play. Young children need 120 minutes, or 2 hours, of active play every day, both indoors and outdoors. The benefits are plentiful. Active play:
- helps maintain a healthy weight
- supports exploration, development, and learning
- builds and maintains healthy bones and muscles
- increases strength, coordination, and fitness
- lowers risk of chronic disease
- improves self-esteem
- lowers stress
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, and continued breastfeeding for 1 year or longer. Breastfeeding not only provides developmental benefits for infants, but also encourages mother-infant bonding, reduces a child’s risk for a variety of infections, reduces child’s risk for chronic conditions later in life, and reduces mom’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Child care providers can support these recommendations by providing encouragement and information on breastfeeding as well as a private, comfortable place to breastfeed or pump.
Cut Down on Screen Time
“Screen time” includes TV, DVDs, videos, computers, smart phones, and tablets. No screen time is recommended for children under the age of 2, and best practices suggest no more than 1 hour of educational screen time per day for children ages 2-5. Why? Reduced screen time means:
- increased time for physical activity
- decreased exposure to food and beverage advertisements
- decreased snacking and eating of high calorie foods
Drink Water or Milk
Child care providers can limit or eliminate fruit juice to encourage healthy lifelong habits. Serve water or milk instead, because these healthy beverages:
- do not contribute to childhood obesity
- do not contain added sugars
- do not contribute to dental cavities
Eat Healthy Foods
Fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy provide the nutrients that young bodies need.
- Offer at least one fruit and/or vegetable at every meal and snack.
- Make at least half their grains whole grains by serving 100% whole-grain cereals, breads, and pasta.
- Choose low fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
- Include lean meats and beans for protein.
- Serve meals “family style” to encourage healthy eating.
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain fiber that will help kids feel full, maintain a healthy weight, and decrease their risk for developing chronic health conditions. Low-fat dairy contains calcium and protein to help build strong bones and muscles.
Child care providers are uniquely positioned to teach children and their families healthy habits that have lifelong impact. Have fun being active with children, and role model healthy choices at meal and snack times.
Get a printable “ABCs of a Healthy Me” handout to hang where families and staff will see it, or to send home with students.
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