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What is Good Nutrition?


We all know generally what nutrition is. It is the process by which our bodies take in and use food. But why is it so important? What is good nutrition?


Good nutrition is having the calories we need for energy and the nutrients essential for:

  • proper growth, repair, and maintenance of body tissue.

  • resistance to disease and infection.

  • prevention of deficiencies that lead to problems such as anemia, goiter, scurvy and rickets.


In recent decades, medical researchers have found that good nutrition can also help reduce the risks of coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer.


While we can sometimes get by with less than an optimum diet, to thrive we need a healthy diet.


A healthy diet provides:

  • essential nutrients and energy to prevent nutritional deficiencies and excesses.

  • the right balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

  • a variety of foods, including plenty of grains, vegetables, and fruits.




Many different nutrients are needed for good health. These include carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water. Most foods contain more than one nutrient; and some foods provide more nutrients than others.


The best strategy? Choose a variety of foods.


To include the greatest amount of nutrients and meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, choose a variety of foods for each meal throughout the week.


A perfect food with all essential nutrients does not exist. A food may be a good source of some vitamins and minerals, but still lack other important ones. By regularly serving a variety of foods, you will help children learn healthy food habits. You will also make sure the children will not become bored with the foods you offer them.



Carbohydrates are our most important source of energy. Carbohydrates come from many sources and are made up of two different types: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.


What do simple carbohydrates provide?

Simple carbohydrates (for example, the sugars which are found in milk and fruit) provide our bodies with energy that goes to work for our bodies right away.


What do complex carbohydrates provide?

Complex carbohydrates give a longer lasting form of energy. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates come from grains (pasta, breads, and cereals), vegetables and legumes (dried beans and peas).


How much of the foods we eat should be carbohydrates?

Our daily diets need to include food that provides simple carbohydrates and foods that provide complex carbohydrates. Over half of the foods we eat should be from these foods.




Protein is needed for building new tissue and forming new cells. The body can also use protein as a source of energy.


What are sources of protein?

Meat is a good source of protein along with milk, eggs, yogurt, and cheese. Other protein sources are grains and legumes, which are also rich in complex carbohydrates. Serving meat alternatives should be considered because of the amount of fat we find in meats and often because of how these foods are prepared for eating.


What does protein contribute to a child's health?

Protein is needed to help children grow. When a child is sick, the body needs protein to get well. Protein will help the body fight off germs. If a child falls and breaks a bone or scrapes a knee, protein will be used to repair the body. Too little protein in the diet can stop a child from growing or learning. Excess protein may be used by the body for energy or stored as body fat.



Fat is the most concentrated energy source in the diet. It provides more than twice as many calories per gram as either protein or carbohydrates. Fats are made of fatty acids. Fatty acids are required for brain development, vision, and the formation of some hormones. Fatty acids may be "saturated" or "unsaturated."


What are saturated fats?

Fats that are made up mostly of saturated fatty acids are called saturated fats. Saturated fats cause our bodies to make cholesterol and can lead to heart disease. Saturated fats come mainly from animal foods, such as fatty meats, whole milk, and whole milk products. It is important to offer children lean meats and low fat or reduced-fat milk, cheese and yogurt.


Why should a child's diet include some fat?

Fats give children the extra energy they need to play hard by supplying muscles with special long-lasting fuel. Unlike adults, most children have very little fat stored in their bodies. (This is because of their greater energy need for growth and activity.)


What are some tips about fat?

Children need the constant supply of concentrated energy available in fat. This does not mean that children need high fat diets, but it does mean we need to:

  • make whole milk available for toddlers (children under 2 years old).

  • make reduced-fat or low fat (not non-fat, skim, or fat-free) milk available for preschoolers.


While we want to limit fried foods and foods high in fat, especially saturated fat, we have to be careful not to restrict all fats from children's diets.




Vitamins are organic substances needed by the body in very small amounts. Many chemical reactions in the body depend on vitamins. They help release energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.


What foods contain vitamins A, D, E and K?

Vitamins A, D, E and K are four important vitamins. They are fat-soluble. These vitamins are found in colorful fruits and vegetables and in foods containing fats and oils, such as dairy products. While meeting children's need for these vitamins is important, children's diets are most often low in vitamin A.


What foods contain vitamin C and B complex vitamins?

The remaining vitamins (vitamin C and B complex vitamins) are water-soluble. Vitamin C is found mostly in fruits and vegetables. Vitamin B is found in meats and milk as well as fruits, vegetables, and grains.



Minerals are needed in small amounts and are used for many purposes, including building strong bones and teeth and making hemoglobin in red blood cells. They also maintain body fluids and chemical reactions.


What are some examples of minerals?

Examples of minerals include calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and zinc.



Water is an important part of an adequate diet. Water is needed to replace the body water lost in urine and sweat. It helps transport nutrients, remove wastes, and regulate body temperature.


Eat a variety of foods

As you plan meals for children, keep in mind that it is important to obtain nutrients from a variety of foods, not from a few highly fortified foods or supplements.


This is because:

  • Serving a variety of foods is the best way to provide children with adequate calories as well as nutrients.

  • Relying on fortified foods or supplements may limit the nutrients in meals served to children.

  • There are some substances in foods (particularly in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) for which requirements and functions have not yet been established, even though our bodies need and use them. A varied diet will help avoid shortages of these as well as others substances.



Here are some facts about major nutrients; including what they contribute to good health and in what foods they are found. The nutrients are organized in seven groups:

  • Carbohydrates

  • Proteins

  • Fats

  • Vitamins

  • Macrominerals

  • Microminerals

  • Water



  • Supply energy (4 calories per gram).

  • Spare proteins to be used for growth and maintenance of body tissues rather than energy.

  • Provide fiber if whole grain.

  • Food sources include: complex carbohydrates foods include breads, cereals, pasta, rice, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, green beans, corn and lima beans. Simple carbohydrate foods include sugar, honey, syrup, candy, soft drinks, icings, and fruit.



  • Build and repair body tissues.

  • Help antibodies fight infection.

  • Supply energy (4 calories per gram) if more is consumed than needed to build and repair body tissue.

  • Food sources include: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, dried beans and peas, and nuts and nut butters.



  • Supply the most concentrated source of energy (9 calories per gram).

  • Carry fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

  • Provide feeling of fullness and satisfaction since fats take longer to digest.

  • Food sources include: oils, shortenings, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressings and sour cream.



Vitamin C

  • Helps form cementing substances such as collagen that hold body cells together, thus strengthening blood vessels and hastening healing of wounds and bones.

  • Increases resistance to infections.

  • Helps body absorb iron in the diet.

  • Food sources include: cantaloupe, grapefruit, grapefruit juice, honeydew melon, kiwi fruit, mandarin orange sections, mango, orange juice, papaya, strawberries, tangerines, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, sweet green and red peppers, sweet potatoes.


Thiamin (B1)

  • Helps body cells obtain energy from food.

  • Helps keep nerves healthy.

  • Promotes good appetite and digestion.

  • Food sources include: meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas, nuts, enriched and whole-grain breads and cereals.



Riboflavin (B2)

  • Helps cells use oxygen to release energy from food.

  • Helps keep eyes healthy and vision clear.

  • Helps keep skin around mouth and nose healthy.

  • Food sources include: milk, liver, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and green leafy vegetables.


Niacin (B3)

  • Helps cells use oxygen to release energy from food.

  • Maintains health of skin, tongue, digestive tract, and nervous system.

  • Food sources include: liver, meat, poultry, fish, peanuts and peanut butter, dried beans and dried peas, and enriched and whole-grain breads and cereals.


Vitamin A

  • Helps keep eyes healthy and able to adjust to dim light.

  • Helps keep skin healthy.

  • Helps keep lining of mouth, nose, throat, and digestive tract healthy and resistant to infection.

  • Promotes growth.

  • Food sources include: liver, dark green and deep yellow vegetables (such as broccoli, collards and other green leafy vegetables, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squash), butter and fortified margarine, whole milk, vitamin A-fortified nonfat milk, and vitamin A-fortified low fat milk.



Vitamin D

  • Helps body absorb calcium.

  • Helps body build strong bones and teeth.

  • Food sources include: vitamin D-fortified milk. In addition: Exposure to sunlight is another source of vitamin D. (Vitamin D is produced in the skin with the stimulus of the sun.)


Vitamin E

  • Active in maintaining the involuntary nervous system, vascular system, and involuntary muscles.

  • Food sources include: vegetable oils, margarine made from vegetable oils.


Vitamin K

  • Necessary for proper blood clotting.

  • Food sources include: green leafy vegetable, milk, meat and eggs.


Folate (Folic Acid or Folacin)

  • Helps body produce normal red blood cells.

  • Helps in the biochemical reactions of cells in the production of energy.

  • Reduces the risk of neural tube birth defects in newborns.

  • Food sources include: most enriched breads, flour, corn meal, pasta, rice and other grain products; vegetables; mustard and turnip greens; liver; citrus fruit juices; and legumes.



  • Essential in the breakdown of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins in the body.

  • Food sources include: liver, kidneys, egg yolk, vegetables and fruits (especially bananas, grapefruits, watermelon, and strawberries).


Pantothenic Acid

  • Aids in the metabolism of fat.

  • Aids in the formation of cholesterol and hormones.

  • Food sources include: liverwurst, meats, poultry, egg yolk, wheat germ, rice germ, tomato paste, sweet potatoes, oatmeal and milk.


Pyridoxine (B6)

  • Needed to help nerve tissues function normally.

  • Helps to maintain the health of the skin and red blood cells.

  • Assists in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

  • Food sources include: liver, lean meats, cereals, vegetables, and milk.


Cyanocobalamin (B12)

  • Necessary in development of normal growth.

  • Helps in the metabolism of folate.

  • Helps protect against pernicious anemia. (Pernicious anemia primarily results from the body's inability to absorb vitamin B12. However, it can result from a deficiency of vitamin B12 in the diet.)

  • Food sources include: liver, fish, seafood, meats, eggs, chicken, and milk.





  • Needed for bone rigidity.

  • Helps in blood clotting.

  • Aids in muscle contraction, normal nerve functions.

  • Food sources include: milk (nonfat, low fat, and whole), yogurt, cheese, green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, mustard greens, and turnip greens.



  • Helps build strong bones and teeth.

  • Aids in all phases of calcium metabolism.

  • Food sources include: meat, poultry, liver, fish, eggs, milk, other dairy products, grain products, lima beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.



  • Helps regulate body temperature, muscle contractions, and the nervous system.

  • Helps cells utilize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

  • Food sources include: green leafy vegetables, nuts (including brazil nuts, almonds, and cashews), meats, beef liver, salmon, cheddar cheese, milk, eggs, and dry beans and peas.


Sodium, Chloride, Potassium (These three work together.)

  • Regulate the flow of fluids from the body.

  • Help regulate the nervous system.

  • Help regulate the muscle functions, including heart.

  • Help regulate nutrient absorption in the cells.

  • Food sources include: sodium and chloride are found in table salt. Potassium is found in meats, milk, bananas, leafy green vegetables, and citrus fruits.





  • Combines with protein in the blood to form hemoglobin.

  • Food sources include: liver, and other organ meats, egg yolks, dried legumes, ground beef, leafy green vegetables, shellfish, enriched breads, fortified cereals.



  • Plays an important role in the formation of protein in the body, thus assists in wound healing, blood formation, and general growth and maintenance of all tissues.

  • Food sources include: oysters, organ meats, beef, pork, chicken, turkey and wheat germ.



  • Necessary in the formation of hemoglobin.

  • Food sources include: liver, shellfish, nuts and seeds, prunes, whole-wheat grain and bran products, barley, lima beans, white and sweet potatoes, tomato juice, and turnip greens.



  • Necessary for normal development of bones and connective tissues.

  • Food sources include: nuts, rice, whole grains, beans, and leafy green vegetables.



  • Works in conjunction with vitamin E to protect cells from destruction.

  • Food sources include: fish, organ meats, shellfish, eggs, and grains and plants grown in selenium-rich soil.



  • Maintains normal glucose uptake into cells.

  • Helps insulin bind to cells.

  • Food sources include: vegetable oils, egg yolks, whole grains, and meats.



  • Needed by thyroid gland to produce thyroxine, which is essential for the oxidation rates of cells.

  • Food sources include: iodized salt, ocean fish, seaweed, and milk.



  • Helps reduce incidence of tooth decay.

  • Sources include: fluoridated drinking water, seafood, tea, fruits and vegetables grown in areas where natural fluoride level in the water is high, and fluoridated toothpaste.



  • Is essential for life.

  • Represents two-thirds of our body weight.

  • Is part of every living cell.

  • Is the medium for all metabolic changes (digestion, absorption, and excretion).

  • Transports nutrients and all body substances.

  • Helps maintain body temperature.

  • Acts as a lubricant.

  • Sources include: drinking water, liquid foods, water in foods, and water released when carbohydrates, protein, and fats are metabolized in the body.



Main Dishes

  • Plan a different meat or meat alternate for each day in the week.

  • Use a variety of meat or meat alternates, such as eggs, turkey sausage, ham, beef, low fat cheese, low fat yogurt, peanut butter, refried beans, etc.


Vegetables and Fruits

  • Serve seasonal fresh fruits/vegetables whenever possible.

  • Include raw or cooked fruits and/or vegetables in salads.

  • Plan to use raw or cooked fruits in fruit cups and desserts.

  • Use a different combination of five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day.

  • Include all forms - fresh, canned, frozen and dried.

  • Serve a variety of full-strength fruit or vegetable juices such as: apple, grape, pineapple-orange, pineapple-grapefruit, orange and tomato.

  • Include foods that are high in vitamin A and vitamin C.

  • Plan to include vegetables and fruits frequently in snacks.


Grains and Breads

  • Plan to use a different kind of bread/grain each day.

  • In main and side dishes, include a variety of enriched rice, macaroni, noodles, and other pasta products.

  • Serve loaf breads or hot breads, such as rolls, sandwich buns, muffins, biscuits, or cornbread as often as possible.

  • Look for more opportunities to use whole grains in recipes and menus.

  • Serve Spanish rice with tacos or burritos.

  • Serve whole-wheat crackers or cornbread with chili.

  • Use whole-grain flours to enhance flavors and increase fiber.

  • Use a variety of hot and cold cereals. Look for cereals that supply fiber and contain moderate amounts of sugar and salt.

  • Include several whole-grain cereals and bread each week.

  • Limit your use of sweet or sweetened grains/breads at breakfast and at snack.



  • Serve whole milk as a beverage and/or on cereal to toddlers (children between 12 months and 2 years of age).

  • Serve low fat milk as a beverage and/or on cereal to children 2 years of age and older.



Nutrition education is learning about foods and how they are important to our health. It should be part of child care because it helps children in many ways.


How does nutrition education help children?

  • Form positive attitudes about food and eating.

  • Learn to accept a wide variety of foods.

  • Establish healthful eating habits early in life.

  • Learn to share and socialize at mealtime (in a group eating situation).

  • Be ready to continue learning while at child care.


How can you make nutrition education part of your child care setting?

1. Get children involved in activities with food and eating. Children are natural explorers. They are constantly asking questions and discovering the world around them. Children learn through their play and through hands-on activities.


  • Think of ways that you can provide learning activities that involve the senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing and seeing.

  • Allow children to handle food, mix it, prepare it, smell it, and taste it.

  • Help them learn to describe foods as they see them. Ask them to talk about a food's color, shape, and texture.

  • Read/provide books about foods and nutrition.


2. Plan activities that match children's abilities and interests. Children develop rapidly. Activities should take into consideration the children's developmental readiness. This includes both what the children are developmentally ready to learn and what they are physically capable of doing. Younger children are not able to perform the same tasks that older children can. When planning a nutrition education activity, think about the age of the children. Almost any activity can be changed to fit the abilities and interests of the children being taught.


3. Plan simple activities before harder ones. Children, like adults, want to be successful in what they do. You can help children be successful by planning activities that are simple and then moving to harder ones. For example, have the children learn the names of foods. Then as they get older, get them involved in food preparation activities such as measuring.


4. Build on what a child already knows. Children learn by building on something they already know. When you introduce a new topic about food and eating, connect it to something already familiar to the child. For example, most children have seen adults put gasoline in their cars. Explain that just as gas makes cars go, food "makes children go." It helps them be able to grow and play. Just as gas is fuel for cars, food is fuel for people.



Learning about different foods and their importance to health can be fun for children. As the following ideas show, nutrition education activities can...

  • be lively and varied

  • take place in a variety of settings

  • be combined with many other activities


Let's Take a Road Trip!

Plan a trip to the local grocer. Many large grocery chains have tours especially for younger children. Take them to the produce isle to learn more about unfamiliar fruits and vegetables.


Live near a rural area? A trip to a farm can show children where food comes from. Give them a chance to watch cows being milked, or fruits being harvested. Take them to a farm or an orchard and help them pick their own berries, pumpkins, or apples!


Is there a food manufacturing or bottling plant nearby? Arrange a visit for the children. The big machinery will fascinate them. Especially if they have already visited a farm, they will see a connection between how food is grown and how it gets to the grocery shelf.


A bakery is a great place for children to learn how bread is made. Think about allowing the children to bake their own bread loaves once you get back to the child care center.


Let's Have Fun with Food!

Play a guessing game with the children. Everyone enjoys a mystery. Place different fruits or vegetables in paper bags, and have the children identify the mystery food by feel alone! (Make sure children wash their hands first.)


Match pictures of foods and food products. Show the children labeled pictures of foods (such as milk, corn and apples). Then give them pictures to help them identify various forms that those foods can take (in this case, for example, cheese and yogurt, cornbread and cereal, applesauce and apple pie). Be creative!


Have a colorful tasting party with new and familiar foods. Cut up fruits and vegetables that the children might not normally eat (kiwi, star fruit, mango, broccoli or cauliflower, turnips, or mild radishes). Add some more familiar fruits and vegetables, along with some dip. Be sure that the display is colorful!


Show what you can do with a single vegetable or fruit and the different forms it can take. For instance, show children that a carrot can be shredded, sliced, diced, grated, or cut into sticks. Explain that it can be eaten raw or cooked.


It's Learning Time!

Have children build their own Food Guide Pyramids. Using pictures of foods from magazines or newspapers advertisements, have the children create their own Food Guide Pyramids by placing different foods in their proper places.


Make a giant Food Guide Pyramid on the floor with string. Give children pictures of different foods and have them place the foods where they think they should be on the Pyramid.


Teach children their colors by using fruits and vegetables. Eggplant, grapes, oranges, carrots, red and green apples, celery sticks, broccoli, bananas, and summer squash are all great foods to use!


Help children learn about different cultures. Share with them foods that other people from different countries eat. Use a map to find those countries. Share foods they might eat there. For example, locate Central America and talk about and taste pineapple. Do the same with Africa and peanuts, and Japan and rice.


Plant miniature herb gardens. Show the children how simple herbs can make cooked vegetables taste even better.


Teach the children how to count using food. For example, have them count small pieces of fruit (such as pineapple tidbits or grape halves) or grains (such as oat cereal or cooked macaroni). After they count, they can eat! Make sure that children wash hands first, and that clean dishes and handling procedures are used.


Set up a "grocery store" in the play area. Fill the store with a variety of foods - real or plastic examples, empty cartons, or pictures. Include nutritious foods (fruits, vegetables, juices, grain products, meats and dairy products) and foods that are not full of nutrients (i.e., cookies, soda, candy). Let the children "go shopping" and learn how to make wise food choices.


Help the children grow potato plants. Stick toothpicks into white or sweet potatoes, then suspend the potatoes in a cup full of water. Place them in a window. Supply them with plenty of water, and watch the potatoes sprout!


Include special foods during holiday and ethnic celebrations. Invite the children to bring in their family's favorite recipes for that day or season.


Use stories to help show children how food can be prepared. The classic story "Stone Soup" is a great way to show children how foods can be combined to make delicious meals. (You could act out the story and then serve that soup for lunch!)


Use foods to help children learn about tastes, textures, and sounds. How does this taste - sweet or tart? Is it crunchy, or chewy? How does it sound?


Chefs in Training?

Show children where orange juice comes from. Give each child a plastic juicer and an orange. Have the children roll the orange, then cut in half... then let them make their own cup of juice for their snack.


Create banana pops! Give each child half of a banana and a popsicle stick. Let the child peel the banana, insert the stick, then roll the banana in granola cereal. Place the "banana pot" in a styrofoam holder, and place in the freezer for a few hours.


Allow the children to help make a fruit salad. Use their favorite fruits! The fruit salad can be part of one of their meals or part of a snack.

Show the children how to make "fruit parfaits." Use fresh or canned fruit layered with low fat yogurt or low fat cottage cheese.


Have fun making a dip. Finger foods always taste better with a dip. Allow the children to experiment with adding spices or condiments to yogurt or pureed fruit. Supply them with sliced fruits, vegetables and/or bread wedges and crackers, and stand back.


Make colorful pizzas! Children love to make their own lunches and pizza is a favorite to most. Supply them with half of an English muffin, tomato sauce, cheese, and vegetable toppings. Let them build their own pizzas and watch you place them in the oven.


Let the children make their own fruit shakes. These are especially refreshing on a hot day. Using frozen fruit and low fat milk, help the children pour the ingredients into a blender. In a few minutes, each child will have a delicious treat. (Don't forget the straws!)



To receive a certificate of training hours you must complete a quiz based on the material above. You are required to get all questions correct. If you do not get 100% on the quiz the first time, you may take it over again. The results of the quiz will be emailed to Mid Michigan Child Care Food Program. When we receive the results of your quiz, a certificate of training completed will pop up that you can print. A copy of the certificate will also be emailed to you. 


What is Good Nutrition? Quiz

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