Day Care Cuisine

Nutrition That Makes the Grade
Surveys suggest that food offered at childcare centers and family-based programs may come up short for calories, iron, zinc, and magnesium, which could compromise peak cognitive development in your child. Participating in the USDA's Child and Adult Care Food Program may significantly improve a child's diet, however. According to research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association comparing an urban-based day care center that participated in the CACFP with one that did not, striking differences were found in the chiidrens' nutrient intake. Youngsters who brought food from home to eat during the day ate significantly less vitamin A, riboflavin, and calcium compared to those served more wholesome meals and snacks prepared with CACFP guidelines in mind. Researchers also found that the better-nourished children were sick on average four days less during the seven months of the study. Other unrelated research suggests that when a registered dietitian is involved in meal planning, children have access to higher quality foods.

In My Experience: What Sitters Must Know
Never assume a sitter knows what's on your mind in terms of feeding your child, no matter how experienced she is or how well she knows your youngster. Whether you have hired someone to care for your child at home while you work, have arranged for a relative to sit during the day, or take your youngster to a family- or center-based childcare program, you must spell out what you want your child to eat. This is especially critical for kids with special needs such as diabetes or celiac disease. My sitters must think me crazy at times, but I always write down what my children should have for meats and snacks before I leave the house.

Make life easier for your sitter by preparing food ahead of time or arranging for them to prepare simple meals such as sandwiches, fruit or vegetables, and milk, which allows for more time spent with your child and less time in the kitchen. For example, when my husband and I go out to dinner without the kids, we order pizza for the kids and the sitter and serve it with fruit. Premixing infant formula and bottling it in the necessary portions helps, too. If you're breastfeeding, do the same to prepare bottles.

I don't own a microwave oven, but if I did, I would tell sitters not to use it to heat baby bottles, and I'd show them how to operate it to avoid burns when heating up prepared foods for older children. On the subject of safety, write down the age-appropriate foods for each child, and warn sitters about the risks of choking in youngsters under the age of four (see Choking Hazards for a list of dangerous foods). Alert all caregivers to your feelings about feeding your child sugary snacks and foods laden with fat and sodium. Make sitters aware of a child's food allergies, what foods to avoid, and the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Although the chances of choking are slim, I feel most comfortable with mature sitters who know how to prevent, and treat, choking in infants and children. Always leave emergency numbers for any sitter.

Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

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