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Child Care Resources

Child Care Food: What Will My Child Eat?

Peter Tallas and Linda Bradley

Reviewed July 2013 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for School Success.

Good nutrition is important for your child for many reasons. For one thing, proper nutrition is necessary for body growth and development. Without it the brain, nervous system, bones, teeth, muscles, eyes, heart, and lungs will not grow and work as they should. Your child will also learn, think, play, and work with others better if they are eating right. Signs of poor nutrition are restlessness, irritability, and a withdrawn personality. You should be concerned with your child’s nutrition both at home and in your child care situation. To make the most of your child’s nutritional intake, to develop a good food relationship between child and child care provider, and to ensure food safety, you should be able to answer some basic questions about food when you are selecting child care.

Feeding Infants Younger than Six Months

The following questions are important if your child is very young.

If you are breastfeeding:

If you are using formula, here are some specific questions to ask:

It may also be helpful to know what type of food intake record is kept? It is helpful to know when and how much your infant eats each day. In addition, it is helpful if the child care provider includes any additional information such as wasn’t interested in eating or had more gas than usual after eating.

Are infants held during feeding? Holding an infant promotes a healthy feeding relationship — both physically and emotionally.

Feeding Children older than Six Months


Safety should also be considered in your evaluation of child care facilities. Consider the following questions.

Recommendations for breast milk:

  • Any breast milk left in the bottle after the child is done eating should be discarded.
  • Refrigerated breast milk that has not been given to a baby, should be used within 48 hours (2 days) according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Recommendations for formula:

  • Any formula left in a bottle after feeding should be discarded.
  • Prepared formula that has not been given to a baby should be refrigerated and used within 48 hours (2 days).
  • Discard any formula that has been left out for more than 2 hours.
  • Unused powdered formula may be kept tightly covered and used within one month.

Recommendations for baby food:

  • Baby food should always be served from a dish other than the jar it came in. If the child does not eat it all, the food should be discarded.
  • Baby food in an open jar should be used within 48 hours (2 days).

Feeding Relationship

It is important that you feel comfortable leaving your child in the child care situation you have selected. In addition to your child’s feeding, you also need to consider the relationship that you develop with your care provider. You may have some very specific ideas on how you want your child fed. You need to be assured that the provider will carry out your wishes as much as possible. Communication is very important between provider and parent.

Visit the child care setting during mealtime so that you can evaluate the following: how the children are fed, the feeding environment, the amount of food and the manner in which it is served to the children, and whether food is used as reward or punishment. Food should be served in a positive environment without reward or punishment.

The feeding relationship between parent, provider, and child needs to be comfortable and consistent. Always remember that the role of a parent and a child care provider is to provide a variety of nutritious food for the child. It is then the child's role to determine how much and what to eat. It is not the role of the parent or provider to force-feed the child. When selecting care for your child be sure to consider nutrition, food safety, and the kind of feeding relationship you would like to have between you, your child, and the child care provider.

Related Resources

Better Beverages (320 K PDF) — You need at least 6-8 glasses of fluid each day, but not all beverages are created equal.

Communicating With Your Provider — Good communication is the key to a positive child care experience for you, your child and your child care provider.

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