Hand Washing Basics

Kids can't see them—but germs that cause illness are everywhere! For children, who have less immunity, proper hand washing and food safety are especially important.

Teach children good hand-washing habits—always before and after handling food and eating, and after using the bathroom, touching a pet, combing hair, blowing their nose, or coughing or sneezing into their hands:

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water, rubbing hands for twenty seconds. (It's good counting practice, too.) And dry hands well.
  • Get a safe stool so your child can reach the sink, the faucet, the soap, and a towel.
  • Practice with your child. Rub a little cinnamon and oil on your child's hands. Watch what happens if he or she doesn't wash hands well. Cinnamon that stays on hands represents germs.
  • Be a good role model. Always wash and dry your hands properly, too.
  • Keep trying! Kids may need to taste a food at least eight to ten times before they learn to like it. Accept a fact of life: it's okay not to like every food.

Whenever you expose children to some foods but limit others, you also limit the variety of foods they learn to eat and enjoy. That has an impact on the overall nutritional quality of their food pattern for life!

Snacks Equal Good Nutrition

Young children like to snack. That's good news! With their small stomachs, they may not meet their nutrition needs with just three meals a day. Snacks can fill in the nutrient and food-energy gaps from their meals.

If snacks conjure up images of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods—think again! Wise snack foods for people of all ages, including young children, come mostly from nutrient-rich foods in MyPyramid's five food groups. Milk (flavored or not) is a good snack drink; go easy on fruit juice. Make snacks a healthful part of your child's day:

  • Let snacks supplement regular meals, not replace them. Plan for two to three food-group snacks plus three meals a day. Children age two to five usually need to eat every two to three hours. Younger children may need to eat more often.
  • Plan ahead by keeping food-group snacks handy. Check "Child-Friendly Snacks" on this page. An occasional piece of candy is okay, but avoid labeling it as a "special treat" to avoid undue emphasis. Just be matter-of-fact about it.
  • Offer snacks two hours or more before meals. In that way youngsters are hungry at mealtime.
  • Offer snacks when kids are hungry, not to calm tears or reward behavior. Otherwise you teach a pattern of emotional overeating. Maybe your child just needs attention, not food.
  • Choose snacks to fill in the gaps from meals. If your child's meals come up short on vegetables or grain products, offer them at snacktime.
  • Offer small snack portions. Let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry.
  • Think "fun" at snacktime. Children enjoy foods with sensory appeal: brightly colored fruits and vegetables; the aroma of baking bread or freshly cut watermelon; the texture differences of soft, creamy cheese with crisp, crunchy crackers.
  • Encourage tooth brushing after snacks of any kind, not only after sweets.
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