By Kimberly McVinney
Director of the Child and Adult Care Food Program, YWCA Jamestown
Childcare providers benefit immensely from the CACFP program, as they are able to provide the children they serve with nutritional choices. The parents, however, may have some trouble encouraging their children to eat their fruits and vegetables at home. Keeping up with the stressful demands of work, school, family and other commitments can make it difficult to remember nutrition, which is why the theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month, “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day,” benefits those with busy lifestyles. This theme recognizes that food preferences, lifestyle, and cultural and ethnic traditions can impact one’s food choices.
This year’s educational campaign, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, encourages individualized healthy eating styles. Below, I explain why I enjoy my job as CACFP director and how nutrition programs like these truly help children.
What is CACFP?
CACFP is a United States Department of Agriculture program that plays a vital role in improving nutrition in child care centers and providers. Every day, approximately 3.3 million children receive nutritious meals and snacks through CACFP.
Why is it nutrition education valuable?
Nutrition should not be complicated, as I believe food should be enjoyed, not feared. Making the correct food choices can have endless healthy benefits and can increase healthy child development. Under-nutrition can impede intellectual and physical development, which can also lead to social and emotional issues. Children develop, cognitively and physically, at a rapid rate in the first three years of their life. The effects of under-nutrition can include lower cognitive development, delayed physical growth and motor development, behavioral problems, decreased attention, and lower education achievement.
I also value educating others about nutrition as obesity rates continue to grow. I think exposing children to proper nutrition and physical activity will decrease obesity rates.
How does CACFP help children and childcare providers?
CACFP allows children to eat nutritious foods each day, and their childcare providers will be reimbursed for these nutritious foods. Childcare providers must serve specific nutritional components at each meal, including meats, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and milk. This program allows for all children in these programs to have the opportunity to eat food that will positively affect their development.
What is your favorite part of being CACFP director?
I visit at home daycares and stress the importance of nutrition. I love seeing children eat and enjoy nutritious foods! Many children will favor nutritious foods over high fat foods when their daycare provider participates with CACFP.
How can a parent ensure that their children are eating healthy food?
Our goal is to see that well-balanced meals are served and healthy heating habits are taught at an early age. We encourage providers to make meal times fun. Here are some suggestions:
- Lead by Example: Keep healthyfood on hand. Keep fruit in a bowl on the counter where children can reach it. Have an apple or other healthy food for your own snack.
- Get Creative: Label foods as “good,” not “bad.” Tie foods into healthy development by telling your children that healthy foods and protein will help keep their strength up for playing, running, sports, and other activities. It’s fun to give food creative names, like “power peas” or “dinosaur trees” (for broccoli).
- Choose Healthy Alternatives: If your child will not eat carrots without dip, try a healthy dip like peanut butter or cottage cheese, instead of high fat dressings.
- Prepare Food Together and Eat Together: Children love to help prepare food using age-appropriate tools. Sit together at the table – and turn off the TV!
- Praise Healthy Choices: Give your children a proud smile and praise when they choose healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or low-fat dairy.
- Keep Trying: Try new foods with children over and over again. Children may not want to try new foods at first. However, with multiple attempts over a period of time, children may warm up to the idea.
- Make It Fun: Read children’s books on nutrition or plan fun activities around nutrition. There are countless nutrition activities for kids available online.
- Plant a Garden: Children will take pride in caring for foods in the garden and will want to taste what they have grown. Visit a farmers market to see all the colors and shapes of fruits and vegetables, and see if your local YWCA has a gardening program!
Good nutrition, the development of positive eating habits and learning about healthy food choices are vital building blocks for young children. CACFP helps to ensure that these building blocks are in place to promote good health throughout life.
Kimberly McVinney is the director of the Child and Adult Food Program at the YWCA Jamestown. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Child Development and resides in Jamestown, NY with her husband and three children.