What’s for Lunch? Food Service at the UT Child Development Center
Given all the demands facing parents of young children, it can be challenging to pack nutritious lunches and snacks to send to a child’s school each day. In many early childhood programs, this is precisely the challenge that parents face. Fortunately, UTCDC takes this burden off of parents by providing meals and snacks to children every day.
We all know that proper nutrition promotes learning readiness and reinforces positive eating habits that can last a lifetime. UTCDC is committed to serving nutritious food in a positive, health-conscious environment. How do we do this?
A Commitment to Good Nutrition
The UTCDC follows the guidelines of the USDA Food Program, which include guidelines for food quality, food groups and food amounts. Some schools on the USDA food program receive commodities — that is, donations of food products — from the USDA to serve to the children. We choose instead to receive reimbursements and to purchase our own food. This gives us more freedom in planning meals and more control over the quality and types of products we use when preparing and serving meals.
We are particularly proud of the fact that our kitchen staff prepares most of the meals we serve. Only a minority of meals include processed foods that come ready-made, such as chicken patties. The Center Directors work with the kitchen staff to plan meals, and they ensure that processed foods are used minimally. All processed foods used at UTCDC include a children’s nutrition label so that we know exactly what goes into each meal and so that we provide adequate amounts of protein to children every day.
We serve fruits and vegetables daily. We serve fresh fruit on a regular basis, and when canned fruit is served, we purchase the type that is packed in its natural juice with no sugar added. Vegetables are usually fresh or frozen. Whenever possible, the bread we serve is whole wheat. Milk is served with lunch each day. We only purchase hormone-free milk.
The morning and afternoon snacks always consist of 2 food groups, drawn from fruits & vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. We also provide an additional late snack at 5:30 for those children who stay later in the day and may need a little something before going home. Late snacks consist of unsweetened cereal or crackers.
Meeting Unique Needs
Some children have food allergies or special dietary needs related to medical conditions. UTCDC will provide milk substitutes if medically needed. Other food substitutions needed for medical reasons must be made by parents. Additionally, we allow families who are vegetarian to bring a substitute protein item for meat dishes each day. The meal served on Wednesdays is always vegetarian so on that day it is not necessary to substitute. The kitchen staff and teachers work hard to ensure that each child receives the right food. We are sometimes asked if parents can substitute items that their children does not like to ensure they do not go hungry. We do not allow menu substitutions or supplements for picky eaters or parent preferences. Keeping up with items brought from home can be challenging to the staff, it can bring items to the classroom that are unsafe for other children, and explaining to some children who may want what another child has that they cannot have it can cause conflict. Children often eat better when they are being served the same lunch and snack.
Eating in a Healthy Way
UTCDC classrooms serve meals family style. This means that teachers sit and eat with the children, modeling manners and healthy eating habits. The children serve themselves, are encouraged to try new foods, and can easily see that others eat a wide variety of foods. Family style meals also open the door for conversation and make mealtime an enjoyable experience.
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