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Rural Health Information Hub

Access to Healthy Food Options in Rural Areas

As infants and toddlers consume more solid foods, it is important for parents and caregivers to have access to healthy foods. Children should be encouraged to consume nutritionally rich snacks and meals such as fruits and vegetables and lean proteins, as these are good sources of nutrients. Consuming empty calories such as those found in energy-dense options (like chips, fast food, and cookies) should be discouraged. Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute significantly to obesity.

Rural communities often have limited healthy food options and face barriers to accessing healthy foods. In many communities, lower population rates and economic shifts have reduced the presence of food retailers. Travel distance may make it difficult for residents to shop at food stores that provide affordable, healthy options. Needing to travel introduces barriers of transportation and financial resources, both of which are more constrained in many rural communities.

There are opportunities to develop programs within rural communities that improve healthy food options for young children. Setting up farm-to-preschool programs in childcare settings may provide an opportunity to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to young children while supporting local growers. These programs typically incorporate learning opportunities for the children. Developing a Summer Food Service Program to provide meals to low-income rural communities can help provide healthy food options to families in need while reducing transportation barriers.

For more information on food access programs in rural communities, please see the Approaches to Increase Access to Foods that Support Healthy Eating Patterns in the Social Determinants of Health in Rural Communities Toolkit and the Hunger and Access to Healthy Food topic guide.

Resources to Learn More

Early Child Care Obesity Prevention Recommendations: Complete List
Identifies foods and behaviors to encourage and avoid in childcare and home settings to cultivate healthy eating habits and prevent obesity prevention.
Organization(s): Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Head Start: Nutrition
Provides nutrition resources for early childcare program managers and staff supporting healthy eating habits in pregnant women and children. Discusses responsive feeding and positive feeding environments, and offers tips for families to help their children develop healthy eating behaviors.
Organization(s): Head Start, Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center

Healthy Eating Research: Early Childhood, Infants and Toddlers, Preschool-age Children
Identifies research and publications focused on policy and environmental changes in childcare and preschool settings. Discusses behaviors during infancy and early childhood and their impact on obesity.
Organization(s): Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Team Nutrition: My Plate
Lists lessons, activities, posters, handouts, songs, lunch menus, and other resources developed by the MyPlate program, an initiative supporting nutrition education for children and their parents/caregivers. In-home, sponsored, and childcare centers participating in USDA's Child Nutrition Programs may request free printed copies of many of these materials.
Organization(s): Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture