Child and Adult Care Food Program

The STEP Method

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children sitting at a tableThe first step to address your goal is to develop strategies to improve the meals and snacks offered in the day care. Target those changes in the foods you serve that will encourage healthy nutrition practices in the day care. For instance, you may direct your efforts to revising the menu, making different choices when purchasing foods, or modifying cooking methods. For example, a strategy to address your goal to increase the vitamins A and C intake by children could be that you will review and revise the menu so that you are serving more fruits and vegetables at snack time.

Teaching Children

Because eating habits are formed during the early childhood years, the second step toward achieving your nutrition goal is to consider ways that you can teach children about healthy eating. Preschool children are learning every minute that they are awake. As a day care provider, you have both formal and informal opportunities to help children learn to eat healthfully. Children learn their eating habits from the foods they are served, by observing others, and from the attitudes and behaviors of the adults in their lives.

Preschool children are not usually ready for complex concepts like fiber, fat, or vitamins. The best way to educate these younger children is by example: let them observe the day care staff eating the healthful foods you offer in the day care. Do not attempt to educate and inform children about intricate nutrition details. An example of a formal learning experience appropriate for preschoolers would be to introduce a new food at a "tasting party" prior to serving it on your menu. When you talk about food or health, be careful to keep all messages aimed toward preschoolers positive and simple. Little children can be easily frightened by information about the risks of eating certain foods. Be careful to describe foods as healthful rather than as "good or bad."

Learning experiences that include food are generally well-liked by preschoolers. Foods involve many senses - sight, smell, taste, touch, and they can be used to teach colors, shapes and textures. Day care is also a good place for children to learn how to wash their hands, clean tables and preparation surfaces, and safely store food.

Because meals and snacks are provided throughout the day, informal learning opportunities with food abound. The teacher or teacher's aide may ask the children to name their favorite fruits while eating a fruit salad. Or, when a child is playing with a doll, the teacher may ask him what he might feed his doll for breakfast. In each of these examples, the child is invited to think about the foods he eats for health.

Educating Families

To fully impact children's health, the changes targeted by the day care must be shared with the children's families. Therefore, the next step necessary to reach your goal is to educate and inform children's families. Informed families can support and reinforce good nutrition practices at home. There are many ways to educate families. For instance, the day care might maintain a reading list for parents on nutrition related topics or offer nutrition information in a newsletter. The daily record sheet that goes home to families can list information about foods the child ate that day, and it can also serve to relay food and nutrition topics that were addressed in day care so that families can reinforce the information at home.

Planning for Change

food service workerThe final step in the process of improving your nutrition program is to determine what education, skills, materials or equipment will be necessary to bring about the desired goal. Keep your staff's skills and talents, your physical plant and your budget in mind as you devise an attainable plan that will support your goal. For changes in your nutrition program to be most effective, endeavor to involve as many staff members as possible in each step of the process.


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