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 approximately 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. Food will be cut into shapes and sizes that are easy for young children to manage and which will reduce the risk of choking.
  9. 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)
  10. The size and number of servings will reflect consideration of each child’s needs. Teachers will have children start with the minimum USDA required portions and allow for additional portions as desired.
  11.  Meal times will be 20 to 30 minutes.
  12. Family-style service will be utilized unless it is determined that it is unsanitary to proceed with this style of food service.
    1. Children serving themselves at table from serving dishes with serving utensils.
    2. Food prepared in kitchen in individual servings and children self-serving.
  13. Any children that exhibit signs of illness (i.e. runny nose, cough) should not serve themselves, but should have the adult at the table, who is not exhibiting signs of illness, serve them.
  14. Meal-related activities (setting tables, rinsing plates, preparing food) will provide opportunities for decision making, responsibility, sharing, communication and fine motor eye-hand coordination.
  15. Total quantities of food are to be placed in serving bowls while the bulk of the food is kept heated to 145 degrees (if cooked item). This prevents waste and possible food-borne illness. All food put on the table must be discarded. Food kept heated and properly stored can be reheated at a later date by the Central, Brattain, or Whiteaker kitchens ( see Food Preparation and Handling policy). Milk cartons on table will be used to refill milk pitchers. Milk cartons are to be date marked after opening.
  16. 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

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