Four Ways to Incorporate Heart Health in Child Care

Supporting a heart-healthy lifestyle early in life will help lower a child's cardiovascular risk for disease as they age and reinforce continued healthy behaviors later in life.

The Ideas & Solutions blog is intended to provide a forum for the discussion of child care and early education issues and ideas. We hope to provoke thoughtful discussions within the field and to help those outside the field gain a better understanding of priorities and concerns.

February is recognized as American Heart Month by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). We know that habits are formed at an early age. We can create heart health habits early in life by modeling healthy behaviors and incorporating healthy daily practices into child care. Here are four ways to include heart health in the child care setting.

1. Get Active

Children need 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous activity daily. Activity can be split up throughout the day, indoors, outdoors, during classroom routines and transitions, or planned activities. Building heart-healthy activities into your daily routine is an easy way to practice self-care and improve heart health. Going for a walk, playing Simon Says, or starting a dance party are all fun and easy ways to get active and improve children’s mood!

2. Incorporate Healthy Foods

Children eat two meals daily, five days a week, in the child care setting. This schedule allows child care providers to influence children to try new heart-healthy foods. Incorporating flexible and balanced heart-healthy meals is as easy as including:

  • Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Fish, poultry, beans, and nuts.
  • Low-fat dairy products.
  • Limiting foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium.
  • Limiting sugar and other sweeteners.  

Click the link to find child-friendly, heart-healthy recipes at NHLBI. An easy way to get children to eat new foods is to involve them in menu planning and meal preparation. Remember to praise children for trying different or less-than-preferred foods, and always be mindful of food allergies!

3. Reduce Stress

Stress is a familiar feeling we all get when we feel overwhelmed or under pressure. Stress can be healthy in small amounts, but too much can cause undesirable effects on the body, including the heart. By incorporating stress coping strategies into your child care daily routine, you can help foster stress-reducing habits at an early age.

Ways to reduce stress include meditation, guided imagery, or deep breathing. Fun activities such as art projects, dance parties, or yoga can be a fun way for children and adults to reduce stress throughout the day! Check out this blog post, How to Combat Stress in Your Program, to learn more ways to reduce stress.

4. Improve Sleep

Getting adequate sleep is essential for healthy growth and development for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed the following sleep recommendations:

  • Ages 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
  • Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
  • Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hours

You can improve sleep quality by maintaining a regular sleep schedule, getting plenty of natural light, staying active throughout the day, decreasing screen time, and keeping the sleep environment cool, dim, and quiet.

Supporting a heart-healthy lifestyle early in life will help lower a child’s cardiovascular risk for disease as they age and reinforce continued healthy behaviors later in life.

Contact the Child Care Nurse Consultant in your area at (785) 823-3343 for more information and resources on how you can improve heart health as a child care professional. 

  • Kim Siroky
    Child Care Nurse Consultant, CCAKS

    Kim Siroky obtained her nursing degree from Oklahoma State University in OKC and has been working as a Registered Nurse in the clinic and home setting for the past three years.  Kim joined Child Care Aware of Kansas as a Nurse Consultant in November of 2023 and is working with child care providers in the northern half of Kansas. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, mountain biking, and training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.