Is your toddler going to childcare or to a childminder? Parents always want their toddlers to eat well, especially when they are away from them. Toddlebox health and nutrition expert Annemarie Bennett shows how to make sure your toddler always has healthy food.
WHO’S COOKING FOR YOUR TODDLER?
If your toddler going to crèche or being looked after by childminder, then you need to think about:
- How food is provided in your toddler’s pre-school service.
- Planning meals for your toddler with your childminder.
IF YOUR TODDLER IS GOING TO A CRÈCHE OR PRE-SCHOOL…
Pre-school services include pre-schools, crèches, play groups, day nurseries, and any childminding service which looks after more than three children. The key questions you must ask about your toddler’s food are:
How often will food be provided?
A pre-school childcare service should provide food at least every three hours.
The type of food provided will depend on the number of hours spent in day care:
- More than five hours (this is known as ‘full-time day care’): Two meals and two snacks should be offered. One of the meals provided should be a hot meal.
- Between three-and-a-half and five hours (this is ‘part-time day care’): Two meals and one snack should be offered. The meals do not have to be hot meals.
- Less than three-and-a-half hours (this is ‘sessional day care’): One meal and one snack should be offered. The meal does not have to be a hot meal.
What type of food will be provided?
Your toddler’s pre-school menu should be:
- Varied. Check the variety of meals and snacks available. Menu cycles should at least be weekly, but preferably in cycles of two-four weeks.
- Nutritious. Pre-schools should provide meals and snacks that support healthy growth and development in toddlers. Ask if your toddler’s pre-school has a nutrition or healthy eating policy. This should outline a commitment to providing nutritious food.
- Cooked healthily. Look for healthy cooking methods on the pre-school menu. Healthily cooked foods are those which are steamed, baked, roasted, stewed, poached and boiled. Check that they avoid (or use very lightly) seasonings such as salt, processed soups and sauces, and stock cubes.
- Right for their age. Check that the foods on the menu in your toddler’s pre-school are age-appropriate and of a suitable texture. Due to choking risks, foods such as whole nuts, whole grapes (halved grapes are fine), boiled and sticky sweets, and popcorn should not be available.
- Accommodating. Your toddler’s pre-school should accommodate special dietary needs, especially allergies. For example, a pre-school should provide meal and snack options that are vegetarian, gluten-free, nut-free, and suitable for toddlers with diabetes. Any allergies you report to a pre-school must have been diagnosed by a qualified medical doctor.
How should food be provided in pre-school?
The types of food are important, but so is the way the food is given to your toddler.
Ask to visit the facility at a mealtime. Your toddler should be given meals and snacks:
- Under supervision. A suitably qualified carer should sit with toddlers to assist with feeding and to ensure that all toddlers are eating safely.
- At a table. Toddlers should eat at a table for all meals and snacks. Toddlers should sit at tables in small groups. There should be few distractions. This encourages conversation and seeing their friends eat healthily will encourage them to do the same.
- On time. Toddlers need a regular eating routine. Meals and snacks should be served at the same time each day.
- With healthy drinks. A small amount of water or milk should accompany each meal and snack. Toddlers should eat about half of their meal first, before drinks are provided.
- With enough time. Toddlers should have about 25 minutes to eat their main meal and about 15 minutes to finish a snack.
PLANNING MEALS WITH A CHILDMINDER
Your childminder might be a little more casual than a pre-school service in how they provide food to your toddler. Before your toddler ever goes to the childminder, talk to your childminder about food. From this, you and your childminder should both be clear on:
- What food will be provided. Be clear about the meals and snacks you will provide (if any). If your childminder is providing meals and snacks, suggest what you would like them to offer your toddler.
- When food should be provided. Tell your childminder about your toddler’s normal feeding routine. This should help them to plan meals and snacks around naptimes and other activities.
- What extra food is okay. If you are providing your toddler’s meals and snacks, but your toddler is having an unusually hungry day, or you are running late, your childminder may need to provide some extra snacks. Suggest snacks that you would be happy for your toddler to have, such as fruit, crackers or yogurt.
- What drinks are okay. Be clear about the type and amount of drinks you are happy for your childminder to give your toddler.
Make sure that your childminder understands how you would like meals, snacks and drinks to be given to your toddler. Accept that your childminder’s style of caring for your toddler may be different to yours.
Focus on building a good relationship where you can easily discuss any questions you have about foods and drinks given to your toddler during the day.