Healthy Children - May 2012

 

October 11, 2010 was my first day as the executive director of Cheerful Home Child Care and Early Learning Center. I had so much to learn! My first goal was to learn the names of children and staff as quickly as possible.

To accomplish this goal, I spent a lot of time roaming through the building. As I did this, I began to take notice of what the children were eating. This led me to the kitchen where I examined the menus closely. Four days each week for breakfast the children were served sugary cereal, juice, and milk. On Mondays children were served a hot breakfast item. That sounded better until I saw what looked like corn dogs for breakfast. Well, they weren't corn dogs, they were flapsticks...a sausage link on a stick with a pancake-like thing wrapped around it. From freezer to oven to children—oh dear!

Chicken nuggets and french fries were served weekly for lunch as well as a ham patty on a bun. That didn't sound too bad. Then I looked more closely. Ham patties were compacted pork parts formed into a tube and sliced to make a patty shape. In investigating further, I found that mashed potatoes were flakes to which you just add water. Biscuits, sausage, gravy, and tri-tators were staples on the lunch menu. There were no fresh vegetables and very few fresh fruits included.

Name brand, individually wrapped items were served for snacks and in offering enough to meet nutritional requirements of the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the cost was nearly equal to the amount of a lunch reimbursement. Between the expense of these convenience food items and the fact that we should be serving children healthier foods, it was definitely time for a change.

Informal discussions with parents provided positive feedback. I also met formally with the finance committee and the board of directors to elicit their support. With everyone on board, I then researched the available options.

I learned there are many resources available and signed on with the Healthy Schools Campaign and Let's Move! Child Care. Our local food wholesaler had nutritionists and dieticians who met with us at no charge to discuss healthier eating choices. They helped us develop a six-week rotating lunch menu.

Kitchen staff were still a little apprehensive about the changes. They had to re-learn how to use our commercial grade meat slicer, stand mixer, and grill that had not been used for quite a while. Our head cook was still concerned about disappointing the children if she replaced their french fries with choices like steamed fresh broccoli.

In January 2011, we implemented our new menus. It took several months for everyone to adjust. Gone are the just add-water mashed potatoes and sugary cereal. We now have boneless, skinless chicken tenders on the grill instead of ham patties and we serve seasonal fresh vegetables and fruits, and whole grains regularly.

The staff is doing well with the new plan and the parents are pleased that their children have healthier food choices each day.

And, guess what? The children didn't complain once!

References

Healthy Schools Campaign - www.healthyschoolscampaign.org

Let’s Move! Child Care - www.letsmove.org