3 min read

More than half of Canadian children under the age of six are enrolled in some form of child care program.1 Therefore, many children spend most of their day in child care centres, where they learn a great deal from early childhood educators, including how to develop healthy eating habits. Educators have the opportunity and the responsibility to create healthy eating environments; which will not only support the healthy development of young children but will allow them to establish healthy lifelong practices. However, every centre has a different set of needs and capabilities to promote healthy eating. Nutrition policies are a helpful first step in helping child care centres establish and maintain healthy eating practices.

What is a Nutrition Policy?

A nutrition policy is a clear and enforced written statement that provides a set of principles to help make the best decisions about nutrition.2 A healthy eating policy supports educators, families, and children. Established policies can guide educators to make choices about the best practices to follow and support children’s learning, development, and health. When establishing nutrition policies for child care centres, consider starting by determining your centre’s healthy eating charter.3 A healthy eating charter is a statement that outlines what the centre believes to be important when helping children develop healthy eating practices and positive relationships with food. We recommend posting the charter on a visible bulletin board or finding an alternate way to share it with families. Ensure that everyone is aware of the centre’s values. While developing nutrition policies for a childcare program, it is important to consider the following:

1. Offer Healthy Foods

It is important to prioritize whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and iron-containing protein foods (i.e. chicken, beans, fish) for meals and snacks. Alberta Health Services recommends limiting drink options to water, milk, and plant-based milk alternatives.4 Avoid sugary drinks and highly processed foods. If parents provide meals and snacks, it is recommended they offer a variety of healthy options from Canada’s Food Guide.

Check out Canada’s Food Guide for a variety of healthy food and drink options. 

2. Create a Healthy Eating Environment

It is important that educators lead by example! Be a positive role model by sitting with the children during snacks and meals. Let them see you eating and enjoying a variety of healthy foods, this will help children learn to eat well and explore new foods.5 Eating the same foods as the children during snack or lunchtime is also a great way to encourage them to try new foods. Promote a relaxing atmosphere by putting away distractions such as toys and technology. Take these opportunities to demonstrate and teach table manners, language skills, and the fun of trying new foods! Asking the children about the texture, the colours, and the flavours of the foods they are eating are examples of conversations starters to have at mealtimes.

3. Integrate Nutrition in Everyday Activities

Integrate nutrition education into programming, activities, and learning opportunities throughout the day. Use circle time to include nutrition education, such as songs, rhymes, pretend play, and conversation about food and mealtimes. Click the link for nutrition activities ideas! 

4. Get Families Involved

It is helpful to communicate your centre’s policies, procedures, and activities with parents and guardians to demonstrate how their child is learning about nutrition. Involve families from the very beginning – during the registration process, review your healthy eating policies with parents. Keep families involved by sending them photos, videos, or emails regarding the centre’s healthy eating activities and menus. At pickup time, share specific examples that showcase the child’s progress.

Clear Nutrition Policies Will Help Child Care Centres6

  1. align with government legislation.
  2. set expectations and roles for child care providers and parents.
  3. accommodating allergies and dietary restrictions.
  4. identify areas for improvement.
  5. educate child care providers and parents/guardians on best practices.
  6. ensure nutrition practices are consistent for all children and classrooms.
  7. create healthy meal and beverage plans.

Creating and maintaining a healthy eating policy supports children, families, and educators in creating a healthy eating environment. Identifying effective healthy eating environments in childcare settings is critical for supporting the development of healthy Canadians. 

Click the link to access the ANGCY (Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth) and go to Appendix A: Guidelines for Policy Development. Get ideas and examples of Childcare policies. 


  1. Statistics Canada. (2021, Apr 7). Survey on Early Learning and Child Care Arrangements, 2020.
  2. Ontario Dietitians in Public Health. (n.d). Paint Your Plate Toolkit: A Toolkit For Ontario Child Care Providers. 
  3. Ontario Dietitians in Public Health. (n.d). Paint Your Plate Toolkit: A Toolkit For Ontario Child Care Providers. 
  4. Alberta Health Services. (2019). Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids: 2-18 Years. 
  5. Alberta Health Services. (n.d.) Children learn to eat by watching you! 
  6. Ontario Dietitians in Public Health. (n.d). Paint Your Plate Toolkit: A Toolkit For Ontario Child Care Providers.