Introduction Children have many new and exciting experiences during their preschool and
childhood years. They meet new people and make friends, explore their envi-
ronment, and begin to learn new skills. Many lifelong habits begin during the
early childhood years, including behaviors that can affect health and physi-
cal development. By encouraging healthy eating and regular physical activity,
teachers can promote healthy weight and prevention of childhood obesity.
Early childhood is a time for new experiences with food. New foods are in-
troduced at home, at schools, at restaurants, and at the homes of friends and
relatives, and familiar foods are sometimes prepared in unfamiliar ways. For ex-
ample, a child who recognizes chicken in the form of chicken fingers may be sur-
prised to see a whole raw chicken or even a live chicken! Chicken may be fried,
baked, grilled, or stewed. Likewise, fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried.
Vegetables can be served raw, stir-fried, sautéed, baked, boiled, grilled, or fried.
Children explore food with all their senses. First, they see and smell the food.
Fresh produce provides a rainbow of colors: red strawberries, green broccoli, and
yellow squash, for example. The smell of a grilling hamburger or baking cookies
may entice children to run and see what is cooking. Adding to the sensory ex-
perience, children then hear the sounds produced by the food, such as crackers
breaking, fish sizzling, and apples crunching. Next, young children explore the
food’s texture and temperature, first with their fingers and then with their lips
and tongues. Finally, children taste the food and discover whether it is sweet,
sour, salty, or spicy. Through exploration and play, children learn about the va-
riety of foods available and begin to make food choices.
Many lifelong eating habits, including food likes and dislikes, are shaped
during the early years of childhood. Young children will not know and do not
need to understand which nutrients are in specific foods. Nor do they need to
know how many grams of fat are in their lunches. They do need to develop an
appreciation for the wide variety of foods available. By eating foods in a variety
of colors, textures, temperatures, and tastes, most children will consume the nu-
trients they need for healthful growth and development.
The adult’s role in children’s nutrition is to provide nutritionally balanced
meals and snacks. Foods that are appealing and interesting to children are the