Feeding Toddlers in a Preschool Setting

by Christine Medeiros

Recently, I started a new job. I am a full time preschool teacher at an amazing and unique childcare facility. When I began working at the childcare I was a substitute for all three of the classrooms as well as help in the kitchen. I have had the pleasure to get to know 12 amazing toddlers, and 28 awesome preschoolers. The childcare that I work for is a nut-free and vegetarian childcare organization that offers three snacks and one meal throughout the day. There is a food coordinator that single handedly plans and prepares meals for the entire childcare. Feeding close to forty kids everyday poses many challenges. Since I had the opportunity to do substitute work for the food coordinator I have seen first hand the challenges that come up on a daily basis in this special setting. After reading chapter 18 of my nutrition text book, The Science of Nutrition, and Judy Learn’s 20 tips for feeding toddlers, I noticed many similarities in strategies for feeding children between the ages of 1-5. I would like to share some tips I have learned as well as some challenges that we face and how we overcome them.
Beginning with our 9:00 a.m. snack—usually our morning snack is a breakfast food. In the toddler room we prepare enough food for 12 children ages 1 to 2 1/2 years old. An example of a common morning snack is Toasted O’s and bananas. The Toasted O’s are served dry with whole milk in a sippy cup on the side. The bananas are peeled and cut into slices and offered in the same bowl as the toasted o’s. The serving sizes for a toddler is, about 1 tbsp per 1 year of age. As a childcare provider we offer the USDA required serving amount for toddlers and allow seconds if the toddler expresses the need for more food. Usually the one serving is just enough to satisfy their little bellies. Sometimes we are approached with special requirements from the family about their child’s diet. There is one toddler whose parents requested that their son be offered whole milk at every snack, and that the milk be offered first due to his inability to gain weight. In the same classroom there is a family who requests that their child get only the minimum required amount of food, due to the fear of him becoming obese or having high blood pressure. He has special low fat crackers that are served to him at afternoon snack.
The pre-school room is made up of children 2 1/2 to 5 years of age. Though the food that is served in both the pre-school room and toddler room is the same, the preparations are a little different. The preschooler’s are served the same cereal, and bananas, except their bananas are cut differently. We cut the peel long ways down the back of the banana and then quarter them, leaving the peel on. The milk offered in the preschool room is 2% milk and the preschoolers serve themselves. Allowing the preschoolers to serve themselves makes mealtime more interesting and also teaches them wonderful table manners. The preschoolers are also offered the USDA required serving amount but often eat more due to the fact that they serve themselves. Some special children in our preschool room have severe nut allergies and dairy allergies. Since our childcare is a nut-free facility, our food coordinator will read the labeling on every item she buys to ensure no nuts make it into the school. (Even foods that are nut free may have been prepared at a factory that processes nuts, and it must say so on the packaging). As far as the dairy allergy, we serve soy milk and soy cheese to that child.
Often we have children in both the toddler room and preschool room that won’t eat the offered meal at lunch time. Our lunches are always healthy and include a main dish and up to 4 little side dishes. One meal we had recently was English muffin pizzas with TVP, which is textured vegetable protein, in the sauce and cheese on top. For sides there were green beans and apple sauce. Milk is always served at lunch for both classrooms. Offering a number of different food choices seems to help children want to eat, and when children don’t feel like eating, we let them be, and they end up eating more at snack time. Our school never forces or gives ultimatums for eating—though we do suggest eating one more bite of green beans before serving themselves another helping of applesauce.
I enjoy lunchtime most of all at the preschool. I love seeing children explore the flavors, texture, and the joy of eating in a day. I feel mealtimes should always be joyous and that it will help people be happier and healthier.

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