Mealtimes are designed to promote the physical, social, and emotional development of children and to increase knowledge about healthy eating. 


  1. The mealtime environment is adapted to meet all children’s varying developmental needs and different cultural backgrounds.  
  2. Every child will receive a quantity of food in meals and snacks which provides at least one-third of their daily nutritional needs, with consideration for meeting any special needs of children.
  3. All children in morning programs who have not received breakfast at the time they arrive will be served a nourishing breakfast.
  4. In order to ensure good appetites and a relaxing mealtime environment, calming transitional activities will be planned before meals.
  5. Breakfast must be served at least two and half hours before lunch, and snacks must be served at least one and a half hours after lunch.  
  6. In order to have a successful nutritional environment, mealtimes should occur in a quiet, well-lit and ventilated area.
  7. The table, chairs, and eating utensils will be age appropriate.
  8. Chairs will be arranged around table to meet distance guidelines.
  9. Food will be cut into shapes and sizes that are easy for young children to manage and which will reduce the risk of choking. 
  10. Food will not be used as punishment or reward, and children are encouraged, but not forced or coerced to eat or taste. (see Child Guidance/Behavior Issues policy)
  11. Classroom food service worker (CFSW) will set cart with menu items and required utensils. CFSW will deliver the cart to the classroom. Teachers will serve each child the minimum USDA required portions of each required menu item using utensils. Teaching staff will wash hands prior to meal service. Teaching staff will not model meal time. Minimum portion of certain menu items can be placed on a second plate or bowl if there is need due to behavior concerns. The point of service meal count is taken when all meal components are placed on the table and the participants are seated at the table with a complete meal in front of them 
  12. Meal times will be 20 to 30 minutes. Meals may be staggered with two groups to allow for spacing between children at the table if needed.  
  13. Restaurant Style service will be utilized. All food components are portioned and served on the plate and in the cup for each participant. Minimum portion sizes of each required component must be served together to each participant at the beginning of the meal. 
  14. Meal-related activities including conversation and self-service will provide opportunities for communication and fine motor eye-hand coordinationAll food put on the table must be discarded.  
  15. A variety of foods is served to broaden each child’s food experience.

This policy complies with Head Start Performance Standard 45CFR Section 1304.23.

It was approved by Policy Council on October 14, 1997. Revised June 13, 2001, July 25, 2001, June 20, 2002. September 2015. May 2018. August 2020