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Create Happy Times: The Eating Environment for Kids

In this section, you will find information on:

  • how to make mealtime at your site a pleasant experience;
  • the importance of nutrition education for the children; and
  • tips on fun nutrition education activities.

A pleasant eating environment is another important key to healthy eating.  Bringing children and foods together in a happy meal setting is as important as what children should eat.  Pleasant eating experiences form habits and attitudes that can last a lifetime.

Making  Mealtime A Happy Time

Encourage good experiences with food and eating by:

  • Allowing children to take their own time to eat within meal service time requirements.  Let them follow their own “time clock”.  Eating in a hurry may spoil the pleasure of eating.
  • Not forcing children to eat.  They can be picky eaters.
  • Offering a variety of foods in different ways.

The Physical Environment

If you are serving food inside a building:

  • Make sure the room or setup is attractive and clean.
  • Use bright colors and decorations that children like.
  • Offer good lighting and proper air circulation.
  • Provide chairs, tables, dishes, glasses, plastic ware, and serving utensils that are appropriate for children.
  • Arrange food on plates and garnish serving lines to make meals attractive.
  • Avoid delays so children do not have to wait.
  • Have children help set up the food service and help clean up after eating.

If you are serving food outdoors:

  • Be sure food is safe to eat by providing ice or refrigeration for cold foods, and warmers for hot foods.
  • If you are transporting food to outdoor sites, look into using refrigerated trucks and/or warmers. Proper temperature maintenance is necessary and must be accommodated if food is to be transported
  • It’s important to check food on delivery for proper temperatures.  Make sure thermometers are available to check on food.  Keep hot food at 139 °F or above and cold food at 40 °F or below.
  • Remember, nutrition is important but extra “other foods” can be served that provide additional energy on a hot day, such as ice-cold fruit pops or ice milk treats.
A Healthy

Atmosphere

  • Provide a quiet time just before meals so that mealtime can be relaxed.
  • Encourage a friendly atmosphere.  Display posters and messages that promote healthy eating and encourage physical activity.
  • Talk about foods, the colors, the shapes, the sizes, and where they come from.
  • Encourage children to talk about their food experiences—how the food tastes and smells.
  • Allow enough time for children to eat and experience healthy eating within meal service time requirements.
  • Offer nutrition education activities.

Nutrition

Education

Nutrition education is learning about foods and how they are important to health.  Nutrition education is an important part of serving meals to children participating in SFSP.  Encourage your staff to provide a variety of activities to help children learn about healthy eating behaviors.

Nutrition knowledge helps children:

  • Adopt healthy eating habits;
  • Develop positive attitudes toward nutritious meals;
  • Learn to accept a wide variety of foods;
  • Establish good food habits early in life; and
  • Share and socialize in group eating situations.
Promote

Nutrition

Education

Activities

The teaching of nutrition principles is most effective when you combine concepts with other learning activities.  Learning is reinforced when children have an opportunity to practice what you teach them.

Introducing new foods to children can be an educational experience. Foods, like a bright orange, a rosy apple, or a bright green pepper, can be an introduction to new colors, different shapes, textures, and smells for younger children.  A child may reject a food simply because it is unfamiliar.  Seeing, touching, tasting new foods, and preparing familiar foods in a different way, can lead to better acceptance.  Organize tasting parties to offer children a taste-test of new food items.