The Importance of Nutrition Education in Early Childhood


The importance of food in early childhood education cannot be overstated. As Consuelo Lopez Mondedeu aptly stated, “Food, from the first moment of a child’s life, leads to a healthy life, a good physical appearance, the achievement of their full intellectual potential, and efficiency in their work.” This document will delve into the significance of food, nutrition, and dietetics in child education, focusing on balanced diets, menu planning, childhood eating disorders, and the educational opportunities presented during mealtimes.

Food, Nutrition, and Diet

Living beings require food to sustain their vital activities. Food provides the necessary substances for growth and compensates for energy losses. Through complex chemical reactions, food is broken down into simpler substances that are absorbed and utilized by the body.

Food and Education

Food and its consumption are not merely biological processes but are deeply intertwined with education. Education plays a crucial role in shaping eating habits and attitudes towards food. This is recognized in various educational frameworks, including the Organic Law 2/2006 of 3 May, Royal Decree 1630/2006, Decree 67/2007, and Law 7/2010, which emphasize the importance of health education, particularly in relation to food and nutrition, in early childhood education.


Nutrition encompasses the complex processes involved in the digestion, absorption, transport, storage, metabolism, and elimination of nutrients obtained from food. It’s important to distinguish between food and nutrition, as a person can consume food without receiving adequate nourishment.


Food provides us with seven essential types of nutrients:

  1. Protein: Found in animal products (meat, fish, milk, eggs) and plant sources, proteins are essential for building and repairing tissues.
  2. Carbohydrates: These provide energy and can be either simple (sugars) or complex (starches).
  3. Lipids (Fats): Found in animal fats and vegetable oils, lipids provide energy, fat-soluble vitamins, and are part of cell membranes.
  4. Vitamins: Organic compounds essential for various bodily functions. They can be fat-soluble (A, D, E, K) or water-soluble (C and B complex).
  5. Minerals: Inorganic substances like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, etc., are crucial for growth and maintaining mineral balance.
  6. Water: Vital for tissue formation, nutrient transport, and overall bodily functions.
  7. Dietary Fiber: While not a nutrient itself, fiber aids in digestion and regulates nutrient absorption.

Functions of Nutrients

These nutrients fulfill three primary functions:

  1. Energy Provision: Carbohydrates and lipids provide the energy required for bodily functions.
  2. Regulation: Vitamins and minerals regulate and control various bodily processes.
  3. Growth and Repair: Proteins are essential for building and repairing tissues.


Dietetics is the science of ensuring the consumption of nutrients in the correct proportions to maintain health.

Balanced Diet and Menu Planning

Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is crucial for maintaining good health and supporting daily activities. It should provide all the essential nutrients in the right amounts. A balanced diet is:

  • Varied: Includes foods from all food groups.
  • Age-Appropriate: Considers the nutritional needs based on age, sex, weight, and activity level.
  • Sufficient: Provides adequate calories and nutrients. A general guideline is 50-60% of calories from carbohydrates, 25-35% from fats, and 15% from protein.

Food Groups

Food can be categorized into groups based on their nutrient content:

  • Body-Building Foods:
    • Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
    • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs
    • Legumes, nuts, seeds
  • Protective Foods:
    • Vegetables
    • Fruits
  • Energy-Giving Foods:
    • Bread, cereals, rice, pasta
    • Oils, butter, ghee

Menu Planning

When planning menus, especially for children, several factors need consideration:

  • Age-Specific Nutritional Needs:
    • Breast milk is the ideal food for infants, providing complete nutrition and immune protection.
    • If breastfeeding is not possible, infant formula is a suitable alternative.
    • Solid foods are introduced gradually, starting around six months of age, with pureed fruits, vegetables, and then progressing to mashed and chopped foods.
  • Healthy Choices:
    • Fruits should be prioritized over sugary snacks.
    • Salads and dairy products should be included regularly.
    • Water, milk, and fresh juices are the preferred drinks.
  • Variety and Cultural Considerations: Menus should be diverse, incorporating seasonal foods and respecting regional preferences.
  • Parental Involvement: Parents should be informed about the menus and provided with suggestions for healthy eating habits at home.

Sample Menu

  • Breakfast: Cereal with milk and orange juice
  • Mid-morning Snack: Seasonal fruit
  • Lunch: Lentil soup, grilled chicken breast, salad, bread
  • Afternoon Snack: Ham and cheese sandwich, juice
  • Dinner: Mashed vegetables, baked fish, yogurt

Childhood Eating Disorders

Various factors can contribute to the development of eating disorders in children:

Organic Causes

  • Food intolerances and allergies (e.g., celiac disease, lactose intolerance, egg allergy)

Psychological Causes

  • Stress
  • Mood disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety)
  • Emotional problems (e.g., jealousy, low self-esteem)

Behavioral Causes

  • Unhealthy eating habits (e.g., skipping meals, excessive snacking)
  • Prolonged use of pureed foods, leading to difficulties with chewing
  • Dental caries
  • Obesity due to excessive intake of sugary drinks and processed foods
  • High cholesterol due to a diet high in saturated fats and low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Using food as a reward or punishment

Mealtimes as Teachable Moments

Education and Nutrition

Nutrition education is essential to address these challenges and promote healthy eating habits. The goals of nutrition education include:

  • Ensuring a balanced diet for optimal physical and mental development
  • Developing an understanding of food groups and their importance
  • Promoting healthy eating habits and attitudes towards food

Mealtime Learning

Mealtimes offer valuable opportunities for learning and development in various domains:

  • Cognitive: Learning about different foods, their origins, and nutritional value.
  • Social-Emotional: Developing social skills, table manners, and communication skills.
  • Physical: Practicing fine motor skills by using cutlery and serving themselves.

Addressing Mealtime Conflicts

It’s common for children to exhibit some resistance to food, especially between the ages of two and five. This is often a normal developmental stage as their growth slows down, and their appetite decreases. It’s important to avoid forcing children to eat and to create a positive and relaxed mealtime environment. Addressing mealtime conflicts requires patience, understanding, and a focus on positive reinforcement.


Food plays a vital role in a child’s overall development. By integrating nutrition education into the early childhood curriculum and recognizing mealtimes as valuable learning opportunities, we can empower children to make healthy food choices and develop a positive relationship with food that will benefit them throughout their lives.


Teaching Context

  • Castillo, M., & Leon, T. (2000). Health education in food and nutrition. Career Ed Alcalá. Jaén.
  • Del Carmen, L. (2000). Food, more than eating. Revista Aula, 92.
  • Mondedeu López, C. (1992). Food and feeding habits. Universidad Carlos III. Madrid.
  • Paniagua, G., & Palacios, J. (2005). Education. Educational response to diversity. Ed Alliance. Madrid.

Legal Framework

  • Law 7/2010 of July 20, Education de Castilla la Mancha.
  • Decree 67/2007 of 29 May, for establishing the curriculum for upper secondary Education.
  • Education Act of May 6, 2006.
  • Royal Decree 1630/2006 of 29 December, which sets the curricula for the second cycle of Early Childhood Education (MS).