USDA Announces Efforts to Create Early Healthy Habits
According to Center for American Progress, nearly one quarter (23.4%) of kids under age five, living in the U.S. are in some kind of organized child care arrangement. That includes day care centers, nurseries and preschools. That means that one, two or sometimes three daily meals, being consumed by kids in this age group, are prepared and fed to them outside the home. That suggests that very young children’s dietary options source mostly from people other than their parents.
Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon just announced an effort to strengthen nutrition standards for food and beverages served to young children outside the home. Young kids will now receive meals that contain more whole grains, a bigger variety of fruits and vegetables, and there will be a strong push to lower sugar and fats.
The final rule provides the specific meal pattern requirements that better align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Since obesity starts at a very young age, and obesity rates have more than doubled over the last three decades (one in eight preschoolers is obese), providing nutritious food with appropriate portion size is crucial to battling childhood obesity. Taste preferences and eating habits also occur in the very early formative years, so it’s crucial to mostly expose children to whole foods filled with nutrients.
The new meal guidelines increase access to low fat and fat free milk and water, limiting sweet drinks including juice. The standards aim to match the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. CACFP (National Child and Adult Care Food Program) has been helping to guide nutrition standards for decades, and this is the first revision of meal patterns in daycare since the program started in 1968. CACFP’s assistance programs include WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These programs help to provide a nutrition safety net to kids who fall in lower socioeconomic family situations.
It’s also important to recognize that parents need to learn more about these nutrition standards and adopt them in the home. You should not be feeding your kids soda and fast food as regular treats or as the foundation of their daily meals. Nutrition consistency is extremely important especially in the younger years. Kids get a very mixed message if they eat “healthy foods” at daycare and then come home to a highly processed diet filled with junk foods and treats. That kind of home diet plan will also conflict with the efforts to get kids to enjoy and embrace the simple tastes of healthy whole foods.
Also consider reading: Two Easy Nutrition Habits