July 2022 Mealtime Memo: Family Engagement

July 2022 Mealtime Memo: Family Engagement

Family engagement is a major part of quality child care. It offers opportunities for child care professionals to connect with families and share tools and resources to help improve and model healthy behaviors. There are two key ways to promote family engagement:

  • Provide credible resources and information that will help families better understand concepts of nutrition, food preparation, and healthy mealtimes.
  • Empower families to be positive role models for healthy behaviors.
Portrait of family, happy together at home

Providing Information

Many families know the importance of healthy behaviors but may not have the knowledge or resources to make informed choices. Your child care program can be a resource to help families incorporate a healthy lifestyle. You can provide health information and resources to families in many ways: newsletters, emails, handouts, program website, family meetings, and program events.

Here are some ideas of what you can include in the resources provided to families:

  • Healthy Living Tips: Offer tips and ideas for how to incorporate health and wellness activities at home. Be sure to provide relevant and current information from credible sources.
  • Mealtime Memos: Share the monthly Mealtime Memos with families or use the information in your resources for families. Mealtime Memos provide a wealth of topics that can be adapted for families, including menu ideas, recipes, and mealtime discussion prompts.
  • What’s Going on at Your Program: Update families about program activities, new foods offered, and nutrition education lessons. Include fun pictures of the children participating in the activities! Encourage families to try the activities and new foods at home too.
  • Program Menus: Showcase your program’s menus and spotlight healthy and locally purchased foods. Tell families where they can purchase seasonal and local foods. Encourage families to plan menus together at home. To help plan, prepare, and provide healthy snack options, check out the CACFP Vegetable and Fruit Snack Menu.
  • Meal and Snack Ideas: Provide quick, easy, healthy, and inexpensive meal and snack ideas and recipes for families to prepare at home. Here are some resources to share: Cold Entrée Ideas, Snack Ideas, and Healthy Snack Ideas.

There is a lot of information to sort through, so where do you start? Below is a list of helpful resources.

  • Parent Tip Sheets provide ideas to help families eat healthily, get active, and reduce screen time.
  • Help Your Kids Eat Healthy at Home is a nutrition education handout with tips on healthy eating, label reading, and serving sizes for each food group.
  • Discover MyPlate: Parent Handouts are quick to read and offer activities families can do with their children. The handouts are available in English and Spanish.
  • Nibbles for Health are colorful and engaging nutrition newsletters for families of young children. There are 12 newsletters available in both English and Spanish.
  • USDA’s SNAP-Ed Connection provides nutrition education resources, recipes, and training for families on how to shop for and cook healthy meals.
  • MyPlate for My Family: SNAP Nutrition Education is a resource that supports SNAP-Ed nutrition education and is based on recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It plays a key role in planning, purchasing, and preparing food for families. Materials are available in English and Spanish.
  • Visual Portion Size Guide: Fruit and Visual Portion Size Guide: Vegetables provide life-size visuals of 12 fruits and 17 vegetables in different serving sizes. Families can print as a reference for the serving size to provide for their child at each meal and snack.

Role Models of Healthy Behaviors

Children watch what adults do and look to them for guidance, so adults need to model healthy behaviors. Below are ways to empower families to be healthy role models.

Role Modeling at Child Care

Eating Together

Encourage families to eat meals together at home.

  • Invite families to visit your program and eat a meal with their child. This may help families understand and create a healthy mealtime environment at home.
  • If your program does family style dining, show how children pass bowls of food and serve themselves. Families may be surprised their children are able to do this and may be more willing to try it at home. You can also provide information on family style dining. The April Mealtime Memo provides links to some ICN resources on the topic.

Family Events

Plan health-focused events like a “Family Health Night.”

  • Taste test healthy foods.
  • Provide healthy menus and recipes to take home.
  • Invite health experts (dietitian, farmer, personal trainer, health coach, yoga instructor) to provide demonstrations and presentations and answer questions.
  • Find an expert in your community:


Enlist the help of family volunteers in the classroom.

  • Family members can help read to the class, lead an art activity, or play games with the children.
  • Have the children show off the garden and explain how they help the food grow. If a family member has a green thumb, ask for their expertise.
  • Invite family members to share their jobs and/or talents with the class.

Role Modeling at Home

Read with Children

Encourage families to read with their children at home.

  • Set up a lending library for families to check out food-themed books.
  • Include lists of books or feature a book in each newsletter or resource.
  • The May and June Mealtime Memos provide lists of age-appropriate multicultural and food-themed books.

Healthy Goals

Encourage families to set healthy goals at home.

  • The Start Simple with MyPlate App allows you to pick daily food goals, see real-time progress, and earn badges. This easy-to-use app can help make positive changes.
  • Encourage families to participate in health challenges that can be tracked in different apps, fitness trackers, or on paper. Examples of different challenges include:
    • Steps challenge: track number of steps taken
    • Physical activity challenge: log number of minutes and type of physical activity completed
    • Drink more water challenge: record number of cups of drinking water
    • Fruit and vegetable challenge: count number of servings of fruits and vegetables eaten
    • Reading challenge: log number of minutes, books, and/or pages read

Families in the Kitchen

Encourage children to help prepare meals.

Engaging children in the kitchen and with food preparation can pique interest, create excitement, teach essential skills, and increase acceptance of new foods. Families may be hesitant about allowing their children to help; however, the following tips and resources can make food preparation a fun and memorable experience for all! Here are some tasks children can help with:

  • Pick produce from the garden
  • Snap green beans or snap peas, or break florets from broccoli or cauliflower
  • Tear lettuce for salads and sandwiches
  • Measure ingredients with measuring cups and spoons
  • Measure and sprinkle herbs or other seasonings for the recipe
  • Use child-safe kitchen tools
  • Clean up messes
  • Read from a recipe
  • Talk about healthy foods

Resources to Help in the Kitchen

Getting Kids in the Kitchen lists ideas for how children of different ages can help in the kitchen. Send the handout home to encourage families to get their children involved with food prep at home.

The Culinary Institute of Child Nutrition (CICN) has a variety of videos to help prepare healthy meals from scratch. There are many short videos on an array of topics, including knife skills, cooking grains, flavor enhancement, and preparing fruits and vegetables.

Discover MyPlate: Look and Cook Recipes are pictorial recipes that offer kids a simple and visual way to prepare healthy meals and snacks. Each color recipe card has English on one side and Spanish on the other. The cards are available to order or download.

Mealtime Discussion Prompts

During mealtime, spark conversation with children about their families using the questions below. Encourage families to use these discussion prompts during mealtimes too.

  • What is your favorite family meal or activity?
  • What meal could you help prepare at home?
  • What new or different food would you be willing to try?
  • What is your mom’s favorite food? Dad? Brother/Sister? Grandma/Grandpa?
  • What is something you learned today that you could share with your family?

Menu Ideas

The following menu ideas feature recipes with smaller serving sizes for family child care and are ideal for sharing with families. Some recipes contain multiple food components listed in parentheses after the recipe


Spiced Oatmeal


1% Milk


Pork Loin with Rice & Gravy
(meat and grain)

Steamed Green Beans

Sliced Peaches

1% Milk


Tasty Tots

Cottage Cheese

You can find the featured Menu Ideas recipes in the resources below:


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (n.d.). Find a nutrition expert. Eat Right. https://www.eatright.org/find-a-nutrition-expert

Association of State Public Health Nutritionists. (2022). Child and adult care food program (CACFP) vegetable and fruit snack menu. https://asphn.org/cacfp-veggie-and-fruit-snack-menu/

Arizona Department of Education. (n.d.). CACFP Arizona snack ideas. https://www.azed.gov/sites/default/files/2021/07/CACFP%20Arizona%20Snack%20Ideas.pdf

Arizona Department of Education. (2020). CACFP Arizona cold entrée ideas. https://www.azed.gov/sites/default/files/2021/07/CACFP%20Arizona%20Cold%20Assemble%20Ideas.pdf

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). Culinary institute of child nutrition. https://theicn.org/cicn/

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). Child nutrition recipe box. https://theicn.org/cnrb/

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). New CACFP lunch/supper recipes. Child Nutrition Recipe Box. https://theicn.org/cnrb/2022-cacfp-recipes/

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). Pork loin with rice and gravy for ages 3–5. Child Nutrition Recipe Box. https://theicn.org/cnrb/ages-3-5/age-3-5-6-servings/pork-loin-with-rice-and-gravy-for-ages-3-5/

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). Spiced oatmeal – USDA recipe for family child care. Child Nutrition Recipe Box. https://theicn.org/cnrb/recipes-for-homes/recipes-for-homes-breakfast/spiced-oatmeal-usda-recipe-for-family-child-care/

Institute of Child Nutrition (n.d.). Tasty tots (popular choice award) – USDA recipe for family child care. Child Nutrition Recipe Box. https://theicn.org/cnrb/recipes-for-homes/tasty-tots-popular-choice-award-usda-recipe-for-family-child-cares/

Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Nutrition and Physical Activity Unit. (2009). Help your kids eat healthy at home. https://www.mass.gov/doc/quick-tips-for-healthy-eating-and-moving-more-school-age-kids-0/download

National Farm to School Network. (2021). Our network. https://www.farmtoschool.org/our-network

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2014, April 10). Discover MyPlate: Look and cook recipes. https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/discover-myplate-look-and-cook-recipes

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2014, April 10). Discover MyPlate: Parent handouts. https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/discover-myplate-parent-handouts

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2018, September 13). Nibbles for health. https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/nibbles

U.S. Department of Agriculture, MyPlate. (n.d.). Start simple with MyPlate app. https://www.myplate.gov/resources/tools/startsimple-myplate-app

U.S. Department of Agriculture, SNAP-Ed Connection. (n.d.). SNAP-Ed. https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/

U.S. Department of Agriculture, SNAP-Ed Connection. (n.d.). MyPlate for my family. https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/nutrition-education/fns-curricula/myplate-my-family

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families. (n.d.). Family engagement inventory. https://www.childwelfare.gov/fei/definition/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2014, February 16). We can! Parent tip sheets. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/tools-resources/parent-tip-sheets.htm#screentime

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2014, February 16). We Can! Parent tip sheets. Getting kids in the kitchen. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/downloads/cookwithchildren.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2013, May 17). We can! Resources for your family. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eco-social/eco-family.htm

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (n.d.). Healthy snack ideas. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/community-nutrition/pdf/healthy-snack-ideas.pdf

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (n.d.). Visual portion size guide: Fruit. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/community-nutrition/pdf/visual_portion_size_fruit.pdf

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (n.d.). Visual portion size guide: Vegetables. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/community-nutrition/pdf/visual_portion_size_vegetables.pdf

Archived Mealtime Memos



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