Are There Nutritional Guidelines for Child Care Providers?
The primary goal of any quality child care provider is to ensure a safe, healthy environment in which the best interests of enrolled children are protected. Good nutrition is an essential cornerstone of developmental health during early childhood, playing an important role in establishing good dietary habits while protecting fundamental health. Good nutrition aids in physical growth and development, ensures age-appropriate weight gain, supports healthy function of organs and aids in the development of a healthy immune system, so a concerted effort to adhere to basic nutritional guidelines is crucial for all child care providers. In addition to being a moral and ethical obligation, adhering to nutritional guidelines may also be a professional obligation for child care providers in most states.
Nutritional Guidelines on a National Level
The regulations and legal requirements regarding childhood nutrition in a child care setting will vary from one state to the next, as federal law mandates only that each state set adequate guidelines on a state level. The American Academy of Pediatrics has established basic guidelines for children, based upon the needs of a growing child. These guidelines are not legally binding in and of themselves, but they may be the benchmark for legal regulation for individual states. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program, which is focused primarily on implementing best practices regarding physical activity and nutrition policies on the state and local level, still operates as a federal entity.
How Nutrition Guidelines for Child Care Providers Work
Each state is responsible, under federal law, for establishing guidelines which ensure the basic safety and health of the children in its licensed child care programs. While the federal government does not provide direct oversight regarding these regulations, they do indirectly shape legislation in each state through CACFP grant funding eligibility.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program provides meals and snacks to children who are enrolled in participating child care centers, day care homes and after school care programs The CACFP targets children from low-income families, serving a wide range of nonprofit child care centers, public and private, along with Head Start programs and other licensed daycare centers who participate. This program ensures children have access to healthy, nutritious meals and snacks, but does not directly legislate regulations. Ultimately, the presence or absence of government regulated nutritional guidelines will fall to state legislators. As a result, guidelines in one state may be fairly stringent, while those in a neighboring state more relaxed.
Advice for Child Care Providers Regarding Nutrition Guidelines
For the child care provider or day care center administrator, the most effective method of ensuring full compliance with all state-mandated nutrition guidelines is to research the laws in their individual state. In states with minimal oversight regarding the quality or quantity of food served to children enrolled in child care programs, administrators and care providers may find it most beneficial to institute a personal policy of adhering to guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
State licensing agencies are the most reliable source of information regarding any and all nutritional guidelines which may be in place from a legislative standpoint. Because some states do not require all child care providers to obtain licensure, however, not all child care providers will be held to these state-mandated standards. Adopting a meal and snack plan informed by the findings of reputable medical associations like the American Academy of Pediatrics will not be a requirement for unlicensed child care providers who are ineligible for state licensure, but these policies can be important during the process of obtaining accreditation through a reputable accreditation program.