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COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Nutrition and Healthy Eating Habits Section 1 Foods and Meals Nutrition and healthy eating are important concepts for young children to learn. Many of the standards in “Nutrition and Healthy Eating Habits” focus on how to teach and model these valuable concepts. But if the food purchased and prepared in a program does not meet nutritional objectives and guidelines, teaching nutrition and healthy eating won’t be effective, no matter how comprehensive efforts in the learning environment are. Thankfully, teachers don’t have to be dieti- cians or chefs to understand these concepts and positively affect children’s nutrition. Food is the fuel for our bodies and medicine to keep us healthy. Rather than choose food just because it looks or tastes good, teachers should choose foods and recipes that help reach health and nutrition goals. This doesn’t mean the food can’t be delicious; in fact, it should be delicious. It does mean that food choices beginning in early childhood must balance multiple needs and help develop healthy tastes and preferences. Children must be offered nutritious food as often and as early as possible. According to a report by the Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child (2010), “The Foundations of Lifelong Health Are Built in Early Childhood,” early learned health-promoting behaviors can influence children’s long-term risks for obesity. Many adults can recall what they were fed as children. How many of us have positive or negative food associations that can be traced to our childhoods? If children are offered a variety of nutritious foods when they are first introduced to table food, their taste and texture preferences are positively influenced over the long term. For example, repeated exposure to a variety of whole fresh fruits—rather than sweetened fruits or fruit desserts—is likely to lead to a lifetime of choosing whole fresh fruits. Child care programs that serve fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products are providing valuable nutrients for children today as well as building healthy eating habits for life. Healthy foods do not have to be significantly more expensive or time consuming to prepare than less healthy ones. With proper resources and knowledge, teachers can modify food purchas- ing and preparation to make them nutritional and cost-effective. Even if high-quality, nutritious foods are slightly more expensive initially, these foods result in healthier, happier children who are better able to learn and develop. In the long run, good food benefits children and programs. This section will address: • Food purchasing: Good nutrition begins with the food purchased. Establishing and follow- ing best practices for selecting and purchasing foods that contribute to children’s nutrition is key. • Meal and menu planning: Evaluating current menus and adopting effective methods of healthy meal and menu planning is an important part of improving overall program nutrition. • Food preparation: Practices that ensure food safety, enhance eating experiences, and maximize the nutritional benefit of food are essential components of healthy childhood nutrition. 5 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL