Skip to main content

Importance of Proper Nutrition and Physical Activity in Early Childhood

Updated October 07, 2019

Audrey Rider

SDSU Extension Early Childhood Field Specialist

Written by Dana Kurtz under the direction and review of Audrey Rider.

Childcare outside the home is relatively common in the United States, as a majority of children ages two-to-five attend some type of childcare and spend roughly 30 hours per week in others care. Due to this, both parents and early childhood educators are responsible to ensure children are receiving the nutrition they need for proper childhood development. Not only do parents and educators and/or providers need to work towards serving nutritious meals to meet children’s nutrition needs, they also have to promote healthy eating and healthy eating behaviors in a supportive environment.1 Along with healthy eating, parents and educators also have to work towards presenting physical activity each week to reduce the risk of chronic disease (i.e. Type 2 Diabetes) and improve health.2

As nutrition and physical activity has been shown to greatly decrease chronic disease and improve health in all stages of life, the Department of Social Services has worked with many programs to offer opportunities for parents and early childhood educators to support and teach a healthy lifestyle. When looking for childcare as a parent, it is important to understand that each center has different requirements when it comes to nutrition and physical activity. Early childhood educators and/or providers also need to understand what their requirements are to provide a healthy environment for children and receive supplemental funds.3

In South Dakota, the Department of Social Services offers generalized trainings for early childhood educators and/or providers which includes but is not limited to prevention and control of infectious diseases, prevention of SIDS, administration of medications, and building safety.4 For further education, providers are offered resources to teach them about nutrition, sample menus, physical activity and how to get children active throughout the day. Many of these resources can be found online and are also accessible to parents and family members.

The following resources have been provided for providers looking for more information related to nutrition and physical activity in the childcare setting. A great resource for all registered or licensed daycare centers is the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which offers reimbursement to licensed programs who offer nutritious meals to children in care.5 Another resource offered to registered or licensed daycare centers is Head Start. This program works with providers to implement a nutrition service that is culturally and developmentally appropriate for all children in care.6

For providers to receive resources related to nutrition and physical activity, they do not need to be registered or licensed. Many resources are available to the public either in person or online. One such resource is the Family Resource Network. This program mainly works with individuals utilizing CACFP, however, they also offer help to those daycare centers that are not registered or licensed.7

Parents and providers can utilize the same resources to assure they are working together to improve their children’s development. To do this, the resources offered online are not only based on information to do in the daycare setting but to also do while at home. One such example is known as fitCare. fitCare offers a holistic approach to living a healthy lifestyle by giving providers the information to teach children about living a healthy lifestyle, educate parents about healthy lifestyle choices at home, and be a role model to children in their care.8 Along with fitCare, Healthy Kids, Healthy Future also works alongside providers and parents to offer resources to increase physical activity in the daycare and at home.9 By utilizing these resources, providers and parents can further work together to ensure the proper nutrition and childhood development their children need to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

For more information on early childhood development, contact Audrey Rider.


  1. Benjamin-Neelon SE. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Benchmarks for Nutrition in Child Care. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2018;118(7):1291-1300. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2018.05.001.
  2. Piercy KL. How Registered Dietitian Nutritionists Can Use the New Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2019;119(8):1263-1269. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2019.04.012.
  3. Licensing. South Dakota Department of Social Services.
  4. Child Care. South Dakota Department of Social Services.
  5. CACFP Meal Pattern Training Worksheets. USDA.
  6. South Dakota Head Start Association.
  7. Family Resource Network. South Dakota State University.
  8. Activate health in your community. Fit Sanford Health.
  9. Healthy Kids, Healthy Future.