The Path to Healthier Nutrition for Our Kids Starts in Child Care

Articles
June 15, 2009

The Path to Healthier Nutrition for Our Kids Starts in Child Care

In an attempt to slow down the expansion of our waistlines and combat obesity, assembly member Julia Brownley, representing the 41st district of California, has authored a bill targeting toddlers. First impressions are lasting impressions and childhood habits, especially those related to food, are hard to break. AB 627 redefines, and in many cases, creates minimal basic nutrition standards for child day care facilities; which is a good thing! Today’s average household consists of one or two fulltime working parents, thus the necessity for outside care. In California specifically, over four million children under twelve rely on child care services. The increased amount of time spent in child care centers stresses the importance of a positive environment that influences healthy behavior. This is imperative during early childhood, a time when lifelong habits and lasting impressions are formed. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 25% of children aged two to five have a high body mass index (BMI), which puts these children at risk of obesity and other adverse health conditions, not to mention, increased health care costs. Good nutrition, physical activity, and limiting media exposure, i.e. time spent watching TV, all aid the prevention of childhood obesity. The bill, already approved by the Assembly and headed to Senate, would update the current Child Care & Adult Food Program’s (CACFP) meal-plan model that was set in place in the 1960s. The CACFP currently services over 350,000 children in Californian child care centers and homes, following USDA guidelines to provide nutritionally adequate meals and snacks.

In an attempt to slow down the expansion of our waistlines and combat obesity, assembly member Julia Brownley, representing the 41st district of California, has authored a bill targeting toddlers.  First impressions are lasting impressions and childhood habits, especially those related to food, are hard to break.  AB 627 redefines, and in many cases, creates minimal basic nutrition standards for child day care facilities; which is a good thing!

Today’s average household consists of one or two fulltime working parents, thus the necessity for outside care.  In California specifically, over four million children under twelve rely on child care services.  The increased amount of time spent in child care centers stresses the importance of a positive environment that influences healthy behavior.  This is imperative during early childhood, a time when lifelong habits and lasting impressions are formed.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 25% of children aged two to five have a high body mass index (BMI), which puts these children at risk of obesity and other adverse health conditions, not to mention, increased health care costs.  Good nutrition, physical activity, and limiting media exposure, i.e. time spent watching TV, all aid the prevention of childhood obesity.

The bill, already approved by the Assembly and headed to Senate, would update the current Child Care & Adult Food Program’s (CACFP) meal-plan model that was set in place in the 1960s.  The CACFP currently services over 350,000 children in Californian child care centers and homes, following USDA guidelines to provide nutritionally adequate meals and snacks.

A recent study conducted by the CACFP evaluated the nutritional quality of foods served in licensed child care settings and found that meals and snacks often fell short of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  It is indeed possible to serve healthy meals based on these guidelines, but many of the meals were high in fats, saturated fats and sugar.

Let’s take a look at AB 627’s specific requirements regarding nutrition.

            A. Serving low or non-fat milk for children two and older.
Although we at SupermarketGuru.com do not believe whole milk is a factor in the obesity epidemic, we agree that this is in fact a valid requirement.  Children generally consume a diet high in fat; therefore limiting the amount of fat consumed in beverages is an acceptable requirement.  Drinking milk increases Calcium and in some cases vitamin D consumption (most US milk is fortified with vitamin D). Increasing Calcium intake during these critical growth stages decreases risk for skeletal problems later in life.

            B. Limiting juice to one serving of 100% juice per day.
This is an excellent recommendation as it will limit the intake of added sugars found in many fruit juices, as well as promotes the consumption of fiber rich whole fruits.

            C. Serving at least one vegetable at lunch and supper
Another great requirement, most children do not consume the recommended 2.5 cups of vegetables daily.  Introducing children to a variety of vegetables, think bright and dark colors, at a young age is a great way to set the stage for healthy lifelong eating habits.

            D. Eliminating deep fat frying
Thank you assembly member Brownley! This should be mandatory in all child care and school settings.

            E. Limiting sugar to six grams per serving for hot/cold cereals
Again, limiting the amount of added (and disguised) sugars in children’s diets is always a great thing.  This is also great advice to follow at home, so check your labels and see how much sugar is in your packaged cereals and snacks.  Note: one teaspoon of sugar is approximately equal to 4 grams.

            F. Ensuring water is accessible & available throughout the day
Staying hydrated is an important factor in feeling good and performing at your best, ensuring that water is readily available in childcare centers conditions children to adopt this healthy habit. 

Unfortunately children have access to a variety of unhealthy snack options before and after school; we can only hope that these learned behaviors by our children will be expanded throughout all mealtimes and to all family members. Supermarkets have a unique opportunity to pick up where child care leaves off and hold in-store tours and nutrition education classes which follow these same guidelines.