Saturday, October 18, 2014

Notes From A Daycare Provider: Feeding The Munchkins

I am constantly asked how I feed my kids (referring to both my children and the daycare kids), what I feed them, and how I get picky kids to eat. I have a set of food guidelines I must follow, but overall, we do some pretty fun things with the food and I allow the kids to get as involved as they can. Every month I look at any special days that we have in the month (this includes holidays, birthdays, etc.) and take those into account while planning weekly menus. I try to get an idea of every single breakfast, snack, and lunch I'll serve in the week ahead (I usually do this every Friday night and do grocery shopping so I can have the rest of the weekend of play).

Yes, our grocery bill is completely outrageous considering I feed the 5 of us and anywhere from 3 to 6+ daycare kids five days a week. This past summer our grocery bill was $300 to $400 dollars a week! However, spending that money on healthy food is important to me and the kids. I serve a lot of fruits and veggies to the kids every week (some more than others). A typical meal/snack for the kids looks like this:

Breakfast: main dish (pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, eggs, french toast are the usual go to's) and fruit
Morning snack: fruit and grain/dairy (typically Cheerios or yogurt to go along with the fruit)
Lunch: main dish, 2 veggies, and sometimes a fruit
Afternoon snack: grain/protein (usually crackers and/or cheese/meat) and veggie (or 2 veggies)

To make lunch time preparation easier I cook casseroles for dinner at least a couple of times a week and I always make extra. That way lunch the next is as easy as re-heating and serving on trays. Since I don't have time to make numerous different meals and/or snacks, what is on the kid's plates is what they get. It doesn't take kids long to realize I'm not making them anything else and they eat whatever I serve them. I constantly have parents tell me that they can't believe I got their child(ren) to eat fruits and vegetables. To be completely truthful, it's not as much me as it is the child seeing other children eating the food (peer pressure can be quite beneficial at the toddler/preschooler stage!). All I do is set the food in front of the children and tell them it's time to eat.

Here are a few other "rules" I follow when feeding the kiddos:

1.) Always keep trying, keep putting it on the plate. I tried for four months to get the kids to eat lima beans. I tried once a week for four months and they wouldn't touch them. Then, one day, after five months to the day of lima beans sitting on their trays once a week, one child ate them. He announced to all of the other kids that they were delicious....and all of the other kids ate them too. They are now requested as a lunch side or snack from time to time.

2.) Try new foods because it might taste good. Thank you Daniel Tiger for our new meal time motto. The bet part of it: the kids sing this as they willingly try new foods! This summer was a culinary adventure for some of the kids, who tried and ate new fruits and vegetables.

3.) Just take one bite. This has always been my rule for my kids- they must take one bite of everything on their plate. It's been my experience, that most of the time the kids will keep taking bites.

4.) Offer new foods.

5.) Offer food in new ways. Say you have a child who doesn't like bananas. Try serving it cut up into small chunks, larger chunks, cutting the banana into thirds, serving it with a yogurt dip. I've seen kids eat food prepared one way but not another, or sometimes they don't care at all. Yes, there may be food wasted during this time, but I promise it's an odd feeling of reward when your child finally eats a food they previously wouldn't touch. Try cooking things different ways too.

6.) Fruit and veggie trays are a hit with all ages of kids. I found this out a year ago when I sat a gigantic veggie tray in front of the kids for lunch one day to share. They happily ate broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, carrots, celery, and mini sweet peppers like I've never seen them eat veggies before. I've done similar things with fruit and it was a hit as well (read more here: http://ashlen-kidspert.blogspot.com/2014/01/sensory-snacks.html).

7.) Get the kids involved in the cooking and preparing of meals as much as possible. The kids are much more apt to eat something when they've taken the time to help get it ready and see how it's made. The daycare kids help me make muffins every week (we eat them for breakfast the next day and get quite adventurous with our concoctions), we've made chili, they watch me put together casseroles for the night's dinner (I tell them that it will also be tomorrow's lunch), and we bake occasionally. This also gives me an opportunity to go over kitchen safety rules (the stove is hot don't touch it, don't pull on the oven door in case the oven is on, etc.). Every other week or so I take down the kid's suggestions for lunches, dinners, and snacks and work them into the meal time schedule when I can. I also make note to mention whomever suggestion it was when I serve it, so they know I'm actually listening to their ideas.

8.) We've set up strict snack and meal time rules. When we're eating at the table there's absolutely no playing--it is eating time and only eating time, they must sit up straight and use manners (most of the time I have to remind them, but they do follow as soon as I remind them), what is served to them is it--even if nobody likes lunch, that's what it is, they need to try at least a bite of everything on their trays (obviously I can't force them to eat what's on their tray but typically all it takes is me saying "just try one bite" and seeing other kids eat it).

9.) We read about it. We've read books about healthy eating habits (one of their favorites is "The Berenstain Bears and too Much Junk Food." I've also let the kids look at children's cook books I have and show me their favorite food pictures from the books.

10.) For younger kids or picky eaters, turn food into play. Use fruits and veggies and do sensory snacks. Fill a plate or tray with numerous kinds of fruit and/or veggies with different textures and tastes. Let them feel, smell, lick, and taste each fruit and veggie as they wish. Leave it out for a while. They may not have interest in it at first, but they may keep coming back for tastes.

After nearly four years of being a daycare provider, I have found these "rules" work best for nearly every child I've had and very few children complain or just don't eat. Most of the kids are quite eager to try the foods I give them. We recently tried out a large fruit tray (I filled it with raspberries, bananas, grape fruits, pineapple, and 4 different varieties of apples) and the kids had a great time taste testing their fruits. It makes me happy that I'm spending my money on healthy food that the kids are eating!

Next week's topic in Notes From A Daycare Provider: getting the kids to nap and nap well.

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