Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More Fresh, Local, and Organic Food on Your Child Care's Menu: Here's How

by Toxic Free NC Staff and Jennifer Li, Children’s Environmental Health Writing Intern

Many families are making local and organic produce a priority these days, and almost everyone needs to increase the fresh foods in their diet. Locally grown produce is the freshest, so it contains more nutrients and it supports local farmers. Why organic? Organic foods are grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified ingredients, synthetic food additives or processing agents, and are environmentally friendly. Research shows that kids who eat a mostly organic diet have much lower levels of potentially harmful pesticides in their bodies.

We interviewed Jan of Country Sunshine Children’s Center, and Shawna of Bright Horizons at Raleigh Corporate Center, both in Raleigh. Their commitment to children’s health is truly inspiring, and the methods they share are feasible and effective. From co-op programs with parents to growing fruits and vegetables in gardens, we hope other childcare centers can use these creative and helpful tips from the pros!

So, how can you get more fresh, local, and organic food onto your child care menu?

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

1. Purchase fresh, local, and organic foods from the Farmers' Market, grocery stores, and food distributors, especially when the vegetables and fruits are in season.

“Anytime we can, we get away from frozen or canned foods and incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into our menu.” —Jan, Country Sunshine Children’s Center

2. Child care centers can obtain reimbursements for nutritious meals from the Federal Food program.

3. Start a Co-op Program. Country Sunshine uses a “Partnership with Parents” to bring in more fresh foods without driving up costs.

How does it work? 

  • 3 times a week, children at the Country Sunshine Children’s Center are provided with fresh, healthy fruit and vegetable snacks from parents. 
  • Parents are asked to provide fresh produce for one classroom (about 10-20 kids/class) only once per month.
  • Each classroom’s parents are designated a specified amount of a particular fruit or veggie snack for every month. For example, parents may be asked to bring watermelon, apples, lettuce or carrots for the class.
4. Plant a garden at your childcare center.  Children enjoy growing their own fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers to have fun and learn, grow their own snacks, and provide treats for their families to taste.

How does it work?

Seeds are both provided by parents and bought from stores. Children can determine the types of seeds they want to plant.

How can we start doing this?

  • Children can start growing seeds from containers to study them and observe how they grow. Some centers choose to hire a landscaper to build the garden space. This can also be done by parent volunteers if there is a plan for the garden. 
  • Use plants that are easy to grow from seeds: Sunflowers, basil, cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, carrots, and lettuce.
  • More examples of what they have grown: Lemon Cucumbers, Green Beans, Peas, Bell Peppers, Jalapeños, Tomatoes, Watermelons, Basil, Marigolds. 
The garden is a “learning experience, where children learn to take care of living things and have buy-in to the food they eat.” —Shawna, Bright Horizons at the Raleigh Corporate Center.

5. Educate staff, teachers, and parents about your work to provide healthy, organic food to their kids! Both Bright Horizons and Country Sunshine use a regular email newsletter to keep parents updated about menus, volunteer opportunities, and gardening (along with all the other important news from their centers).

You can publish announcements and seek parent support through your child care center newsletter, at parent meetings, etc.

Share information about organic food with parents so they get involved with what you are doing. Eat Local, Eat Pesticide Free! and Organic on a Budget are two great starter fact sheets from Toxic Free NC that can help.

Many thanks to Shawna of Bright Horizons at the Raleigh Corporate Center and Jan of Country Sunshine Children’s Center for allowing us to share the great information they provided for this article!

Jennifer Li is passionate about advocating for improved health in communities. After interning at the Museum of Life and Science last summer to promote healthy living, she was excited to build on her experience to make a difference in improving environmental health with Toxic Free NC.


Did you find this article helpful? Approximately once a month, Toxic Free NC volunteers or staff write a newsletter-ready article, focusing on children's environmental health, that we send to child care centers across North Carolina.

These articles contain helpful tips on ways child care centers, staff, and the children's parents can reduce kids' exposures to toxic chemicals and pesticides...we also think they're great for using in your home, too!  We hope you find the article useful and feel free to share.

If you would like any of the past articles, please email Lynne Walter for copies or to be added to our Child Care News list.  Examples of past articles include:
    •    Having Fun in the Sun: Avoiding Sunburn, Skin Cancer, and Toxic Chemicals, too
    •    Toxic-Free Gardening with Kids: 5 Tips for Gardeners at Home, School, & Child Care on Getting Rid of Bugs Safely
    •    Round Up Your Weeds Without Toxic Chemicals!
    •    Get Pesticides Out of Your Kids' Classrooms: It's Easier than You Think!
    •    Mosquito Management in Child Care


Text and Photo, Copyright 2013 by Toxic Free NC.  NC Child Care centers have permission to use text and photo for educational purposes with their parents and staff, provided full credit is given to Toxic Free NC.

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