How to find a healthy early care center for your child



If you’re looking for an early learning center for your child, you’ve probably been thinking about the big stuff, like location, price, hours and teacher-child ratios. But did you know a center’s approach to health and wellness is also important? It can help your child learn good habits that can last a lifetime. Some centers have policies related to these concepts, and some don’t. Here are some questions you can ask, and what to look for in their answers to find ones that do.

May I see the menu?
Your child will eat an average of three meals a day at the center. Ask for copies of the menu to see what foods are being served. Check that fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low fat dairy options are offered.

When do you introduce first foods with an infant?
Food should be introduced on an individual basis, usually around 6 months. Signs of readiness include supporting their head on their own, sitting up on their own and showing interest in other children eating. Ask the center for their policy on introducing solid foods.

Is food allowed at holiday celebrations and birthday parties?
Food is often part of celebrations, but it doesn’t have to be! Celebrations can include physical activity games or art projects. If food is included it is best to have guidelines that limit sugary snacks and drinks.

Can I bring food from home into the center?
Ask the center for a copy of their policy on food brought from home. Don’t be alarmed if you find many centers do not allow outside food. This is due to allergies and food and safety regulations that need to be enforced and monitored.

Is there a place to store breast milk and space to pump/nurse?
Check with the center to see if they have a refrigerator in the classroom or space in the kitchen to store breastmilk. Make sure their policy includes labeling, dating and thawing guidelines. Also ask where space is available in the center to pump before or after work.

How much time a day will my child spend outdoors?
Spending time outdoors is great for all children. Children should have outdoor time several times a day. If weather doesn’t allow for outdoor time, indoor space can be used to strengthen their arms, legs and whole body.

What is the center’s philosophy around eating?
Children should not be forced to eat all their food or to create a “happy plate.” Rather, children need to learn to become competent eaters, and be allowed to decide how much to eat and when.

How much time do children spend in front of screen devices?
There should be no screentime in infant and toddler classrooms, and it should be restricted in preschool rooms. When children spend too much time on screens, the development of their social-emotional skills is hindered.

Is there a parent group or board that meets regularly?
Parents play an important role in the success of an early learning center and have great ideas to share. Ask the center director for ways you can be involved.

Healthy Kids Bright Futures is a project that aims to strengthen systems so young children and families thrive. As director of the project, I turn to sources like The Nemours Child Care Wellness Policy Workbook, for best practices and policies like these.

This article by Rhonda Erpelding originally appeared in Kansas Child Magazine, a publication of Child Care Aware of Kansas.   


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