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Health & Parenting

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What's on Your Child's Plate in Day Care?


Not only that, a limited day care menu -- besides leading to boredom and waste -- can deter children from experimenting with new foods at home. "Research shows in order for a young child to like a food, it takes at least eight to 10 exposures to that food," Nicklas says.

Nicklas has conducted plate-waste studies at day care centers and says that what she found alarmed her. Specifically, very few kids were selecting fruits and vegetables and, of those who did, as much as 77% of their meals were thrown away.

To help combat this, she says, child care centers should incorporate nutrition into their lessons and should train staff members on the basics of children's nutrition. The ADA recommends that centers use qualified dieticians if they are unable to provide effective nutrition-education programs themselves.

Eating periods at day care centers should be cheerful and unhurried, Nicklas says. Teachers should sit with children and eat the same foods they do. Also, they should talk in positive terms about nutrition and encourage, but not force, the children to try new foods.

Workers who force children to clean their plates or use food as a reward, punishment, or to pacify are making a mistake, she says. "This is not positive reinforcement, says Nicklas, "and doesn't build healthy nutritional habits."

Besides ensuring that their children are fed adequately when they're under the care of others, parents need to set a good example, as well. Often, Nicklas says, parents will pick the kids up from day care and head right to the drive through window at a fast-food joint.

"They learn from their parents that fat and salt are OK, and so that's what they crave," Nicklas says. "No wonder obesity among children ages 6 to 11 has increased 54% since 1960."

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