Convincing young children to try and eat fresh fruits and vegetables can be challenging. However, Kiddie Academy, a child care center in New Hanover County, has found a way to get its children and staff to not only try a variety of fruits and vegetables, but to expect and demand them at the breakfast and lunch served at the center. According to Ashley Rayne, Kiddie Academy Chef, offering fresh rather than canned or processed fruits and vegetables makes a huge difference to whether children will try new foods, eat more healthy foods and expect or demand fresh rather than canned or processed.
When Chef Ashley arrived at Kiddie Academy she was surprised to find the kitchen shelves overstocked with canned vegetables and fruit. Ashley grew up in a home where fresh was the rule and recipes included vegetables from the garden and fruit from local sources as much as possible. Ashely set out to change the eating culture at Kiddie Academy and replace the canned with fresh foods from local farms as much as possible. A first step was to eliminate the use of canned and ensure that every meal served included fresh vegetables and fruit. Ashely met with her food vendor and clearly defined her expectations for fresh produce sourced locally whenever possible. She held her vendor accountable and developed a collaborative relationship that serves the interests of both Kiddie Academy and the vendor.
In addition to eating healthy meals, children at Kiddie Academy learn how plant- based food is grown in raised gardens beds located throughout the outdoor learning environment of the center. Children plant, tend, and sample a variety of fruit and vegetables including tomatoes, squash, peppers, blueberries, and others. Teachers and staff also receive training and support for gardening through Farm2ECE, a program provided by NC Cooperative Extension in partnership with Smart Start of New Hanover County. Farm2ECE helps Kiddie Academy staff maximize the healthy food environment and compliments what Chef Ashley has done through meal planning and preparation.
Since Chef Ashely started introducing healthier meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, participation by children in the center provided meal program has increased from 60% to 100%. Additionally, nearly 100% of the staff also choose to eat the center’s prepared meals. Kiddie Academy has made healthy eating an integral part of its child care culture.
The following video highlights Kiddie Academy’s experience with NC State’s Farm2ECE:
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