Healthy Eating Research has developed a free, online module, in collaboration with Better Kid Care, to provide early childhood educators with practical strategies and tips to promote healthy eating habits in early childhood education (ECE) settings. The module highlights effective practices based on Healthy Eating Research’s evidence-based recommendations and best practices for promoting healthy eating behaviors in children 2 to 8 years.

Children’s eating habits are informed by their environments. Many young children spend a lot of their time, including mealtimes, in ECE programs, making this an important setting where children can develop healthy habits. There are several opportunities and advantages of ECE settings when it comes to healthy eating. First, eating with caregivers and peers provides children with rich opportunities to learn from others through modeling. Second, family-style meals (or eating together at the table) lead to healthy eating behaviors among children and families.  Many ECE centers already use practices that are similar to the recommendations presented in this module. With just a little bit of fine-tuning or small tweaks, educators can help the young children in their care have positive experiences with foods and learn to develop healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

About the Module

The module was developed to be user-friendly and offer educators information they can easily apply in the classroom. It contains video demonstrations and educator interviews from ECE settings, as well as activities and handouts that participants can use in their own classrooms. The module highlights practical strategies that emphasize the importance of giving kids autonomy, structuring the food environment, and offering opportunities for repeated exposure, which are proven approaches to promote food acceptance and healthy appetites.

The practical strategies discussed in the module are described in two categories; promoting food acceptance and promoting healthy growth. Strategies that promote food acceptance support a child learning to like a particular food more. This includes strategies around repeated exposure, role modeling, incentives or rewards, associations, and sensory exposure. 

Strategies that promote healthy growth support healthy patterns of growth that remain consistent over time, yet differ by age and change in children’s calorie and nutrient needs. This includes tips around providing structure in the center, providing structure at mealtime, and supporting children’s autonomy at mealtimes.

In addition to the practical tips related to food acceptance and healthy growth, the module also contains valuable information on a healthy dietary pattern for children ages 2-5, the connection between child development and healthy eating behaviors, caregiver and feeding styles, and the development of food preferences.

The module, Effective Practices to Promote Healthy Eating in ECE, is available through Better Kid Care On Demand modules and is CDA accepted and CEU eligible.

Available Resources

Healthy Eating Research has developed an array of resources to make sure families and educators have the most up-to-date information for establishing lifelong healthy eating habits for kids.

In HER’s “Ages 2-8 feeding recommendations provider toolkit,” you will find many resources to learn more about these recommendations and share them with your colleagues, clients, and the families and educators you work with. These resources were developed based on feedback from families, early childhood educators, and other early childhood professionals.

Visit HER’s website for the complete recommendations and background evidence, alongside a suite of materials for families, caregivers, and educators including tip sheets, activities, graphics, videos, and answers to common feeding and eating challenges. Nearly all resources are available in Spanish and English.

More information on these materials can be found here:

About the Author:

Written by Lindsey Miller, Senior Research Analyst, Healthy Eating Research.