It’s very likely that you will need to prepare, feed, and clean up meals while you are caring for children.
You will find most children’s eating habits are based on the parents eating habits. If a family mainly eat highly processed packaged foods such as chicken nuggets and chips, the chances are this is probably what the children will say they like and want to eat. If they come from a family who is cooking meat and fresh fruit and vegetables you will generally find this is what children are happy to eat. Whilst it is not your place to dictate what the children eat, it can and should be up to you to act as a good role model for healthy eating.
Wash those hands
Whether preparing food or sitting down to eat, it is very important to wash your hands and those of all the children.
Hand washing prevents the spread of illness and is very important before eating and handling of food.
Make sure you wash your hands after handling raw meats especially and in between whilst you are cooking.
Don’t forget to wash small hands especially after eating as well as before to keep houses, toys, and people also clear of infection from cross-contamination of food.
Pets and food – not a good combination
Remember to teach children in your care to wash their hands after touching animals and especially before food!
Sharing food with animals is a recipe for spreading all sorts of illnesses!
Keep clean in the kitchen
Be sure to follow a parents’ instructions regarding meal preparation and be sure to clean up after meals.
Parents will expect you to load plates into the dishwasher, wipe down tables and sweep up those crumbs on the floor after serving a meal. It is absolutely acceptable and advisable to expect children to be a part of this from a young age.
Be aware of sanitary food rules, like only using clean utensils and separating raw meat and poultry (chicken) from other foods.
Always have clean hands before you eat or prepare food to avoid food contamination.
If you have a cut or wound, make sure it’s completely covered by a waterproof bandage.
When preparing food, tie your hair back and keep your work area clean.
Prepare raw and cooked foods on separate surfaces with separate knives, spoons and other utensils.
Wash all foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruit and vegetables, with clean water.
Keep perishable food, such as fresh meat, milk, and vegetables, refrigerated.
Don’t thaw frozen food at room temperature – let it thaw out in the fridge.
Don’t keep cooked food at room temperature – keep it either hot or cold.
If you’re reheating foods, make sure the food gets hot right through but make sure you test it that it’s not too hot before giving it to children
If you thaw frozen food, don’t refreeze it. If you’ve already reheated food once, don’t let it get cold and then reheat it again as this can cause food poisoning
Food poisoning is an illness you can get after eating contaminated food. Usually, it is the presence of bacteria in the food that can make a person very sick.
In many cases, cooking food at a high enough temperature will kill any dangerous bacteria in the food. This is especially true with animal products like eggs, meat, and poultry. In other cases, bacteria can live in fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and cheese – food items that aren’t usually cooked.
Often, the bacteria that cause food poisoning have no smell or taste so you don’t know you are eating something contaminated.
To avoid food poisoning, eat only fresh food or food that has been cooked well. If you are not sure about the safety of a particular food, do not eat it.
Food poisoning can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, muscle cramps, fever, and dehydration.
If you suspect food poisoning has occurred, make sure you seek medical attention by notifying the parents, nurse on call or doctor. If you notice extreme symptoms you should take a child to emergency or call an ambulance. See First Aid section for more detailed information.
…and now on to what kids eat
Safety and following parents instructions first!
Most importantly be sure to receive instructions in advance from the parents about what you should feed the kids and if there are any food allergies that you need to be aware of.
It is very important for smaller children that food be cut up into bite size pieces for easier feeding and to avoid choking.
NO NUTS- most importantly, unless you are completely sure a child is not allergic avoid all types of nuts and anything with nuts in it. A nut allergy can be fatal. In addition, giving nuts to children under 5 is not recommended in Australia as it poses a strong choking hazard.
Check for any other foods that could cause a child in your care to have an anaphylactic reaction.
Be sure to adjust the temperature of the food so that it is not too hot in order to avoid burns or scalds.
Try to stick with healthy foods that will provide children with energy and nutrition, not just a sugar high!
Nutrition habits track
Early eating habits tend to lead to or dictate what they will eat as adults. We know that kids model all types of behaviors on the significant others (adults/parents) in their lives. As an au pair, it is your job to role model all sorts of good habits and eating well is one of them.
Eating a variety of foods will help to ensure that children get off to a good start. Meals and snacks should look enticing and include:
Fruits and vegetables
Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt
Grains: wholemeal rice, pasta, bread, crackers, brown and multigrain bread
Get children involved in the preparation of healthy food. By getting kids involved in the preparation of food, they will become more interested in what is being made and will give them a sense of ownership.
Sit with the kids to eat, talk about the food ” I love carrots because they are so crunchy”
Encourage “traffic light foods” with as many colored veggies as you can
See if you grow your own vegetables with them at home
Ensure eating is a positive happy time giving them the best opportunity to relax and enjoy eating
Take the kids to the supermarket with you to help choose foods you can cook together.
Don’t use food as a reward or a punishment
Dessert should be a “sometimes” option, not an “everyday” option
Everyday foods vs sometimes foods
We have talked a lot about the types of healthy foods and ways to encourage kids to eat them but what about those other foods. We like to call “sometimes foods”.
Kids tend to be attracted to highly processed packaged foods otherwise known as “junk” that can seem to taste good but may not be good for their growing bodies.
To avoid these foods altogether can be challenging and can make kids want them more. Of course, follow parents guidance but ideally by limiting the “sometimes foods” you can play your part in guiding the best possible nutrition for the kids in your care.
“Sometimes foods” are often marketed to children with bright and colorful packaging which makes it even harder to resist. Whilst the foods children eat is ultimately the decision of the parents, try to avoid feeding children too much of these sometimes foods, including:
Consult with the parents
Whilst it is important to always follow the instructions of the parents, you will find that most parents would prefer their kids to eat well. Children will often try to “test the boundaries” to see if they can convince you to give them “junk” type foods instead of balanced snacks and meals. Know your audience, be in consultation with the parents about what the kids are allowed and not allowed to eat to avoid difficult confrontations.
These types of foods are an occasional treat, but not a main part of children’s diet
Here is a great video with tips on how to avoid junk food with kids:
Children have more sensitive or enhanced taste buds than adults. This can be mistaken for being ‘fussy” and explains why some children insist on having the same food day after day on their sandwiches or why they find some foods very spicy when others don’t. The most important thing to note with taste buds is that they change all the time while children are growing and fussy eating comes and goes in stages. Therefore it is important to keep offering them foods they have rejected previously as you may be pleasantly surprised one day at a new food they have taken on as a favorite.
Never force feed a child or insist that they finish all their food – this encourages overeating. If you suspect a child is overeating or eating because they are bored, help redirect their attention to a different activity.
Offer food to children at mealtimes but if they refuse, let them know that they can eat later when they are hungry and don’t offer or allow “sometimes foods” as replacements.
With extreme eating issues, parents should discuss a plan with their doctor. As as an au pair, you may need to work with parents to support their feeding plans.
Baby and toddler feeding
Babies start to eat “solid” food between 4-6 months and toddlers can usually eat food, but it must be prepared according to their needs and developmental stage.
Babies are only able to eat foods that are liquefied, mashed, or pureed because they do not yet have teeth or know how to chew.
Discuss with the parents exactly what foods to feed babies – most start with mashed fruits and veggies.
Do not feed a baby or toddler any food that you haven’t discussed with the parents.
Babies’ first foods
Infant/rice cereal should be baby’s first food closely followed by pureed fruits and vegetables.
By 7-8 months, babies should be introduced to soft mashed food including well-cooked egg, meat, fish, bread, pasta etc. Around 9-10 months they will start eating finger foods such as small sandwiches, sticks of cheese, peas, cooked carrots, bananas, and crackers.
Foods to avoid for babies up to 12 months of age
Anything hard including raw veggies
Anything they haven’t tried before without permission from the parents
Honey before 12 months
Strawberries and citrus before 12 months unless with parent permission
Water that is not bottled or boiled ideally before around 12 months
By 12 months of age, toddlers should start to be eating family meals.
Toddlers’ diets are rapidly expanding as they try new foods and textures.
Toddlers are also learning to sit in a high chair and feed themselves with finger foods.
Again, do not feed toddlers any foods that haven’t been approved by their parents.
Toddler foods can be pureed, mashed, or cut into small, bite-size pieces.
Do not feed toddlers hard foods, even bite-size pieces should be foods that are soft and dissolve quickly.
Skip the peanut butter! In general, it is not recommended to expose children to nuts until they are at least 2 years old – so no nuts unless given other directions by parents.
The older the children get the bigger the pieces they can manage but always make sure food is supervised well. Fruit such as whole apples is ok for older toddlers as long as you are watching that they don’t choke!
Encourage busy kids to drink water regularly throughout the day. Keep sweet drinks such as juice and perhaps but preferably not soda drinks as “occasional” or “sometimes” foods.
Keep water available at all times, in a sippy cup or water bottle for young children, and in non-breakable cups for older children.
Lastly, the best way you can make sure you are well equipped to face the challenges of eating with kids is to be prepared. Make sure you have enough healthy snacks in the house, prepare meals in advance so you don’t have hungry children in the pantry when you start cooking, take them shopping with you and make sure you have enough healthy snacks with you when you are out and about.
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