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How Head Start nurtures healthy habits in children

March is National Nutrition Month, a time to focus on the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating habits.


National Nutrition Month was established in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each year, the organization, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, invites individuals to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthy habits. For 2024, the theme is Beyond the Table, which according to the campaign’s description online, “addresses the farm-to-fork aspect of nutrition, from food production and distribution to navigating grocery stores and farmers markets – and even home food safety and storage practices.”


A child drinks orange juice.

Each year, Step Forward’s Head Start makes a practice of celebrating National Nutrition Month with its young children. The agency's Nutrition Coordinator and Nutrition Assistant incorporate nutrition activities on the menu and provide nutrition information to parents of the children at monthly meetings.  


Step Forward Head Start’s focus on healthy habits doesn’t just exist in March, though. Throughout the year, the program provides each enrolled child nutritious meals and snacks that meet the USDA-Child & Adult Care Food Program regulations. These meals are designed to support children’s growth and development while introducing them to a variety of healthy meals. Through interactive activities and lessons, Head Start teaches children about the importance of balanced nutrition. They learn about different food groups, the benefits of fruits and vegetables, and the importance of drinking water. Additionally, Head Start encourages family involvement in nutrition education. Parents and caregivers receive resources and tips to support healthy eating habits at home, creating a consistent message about nutrition.


Nutrition is crucial for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers as they experience rapid growth and development,” Marilyn Moore, Step Forward Head Start’s Nutrition Specialist, said. “We know that proper nutrition supports their physical growth and the development of strong bones, muscles, and organs. However, nutrient-rich foods are also essential for brain development, helping children learn and develop cognitive skills. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the growth of new brain cells. Iron aids in transporting oxygen to the brain. Protein is necessary for the growth and repair of brain cells. The list of benefits to healthy eating is long.”


A balanced diet will help strengthen a child’s immune system, reducing the risk of infections and illnesses, and provide each child the energy they need to stay active and focused throughout the day. It also plays a key role in preventing childhood obesity, a growing concern with significant long-term health implications. Children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults, increasing their risk of developing chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and more.


“The link between childhood and adulthood obesity is concerning because obesity in adulthood is often more difficult to treat and can lead to more severe health complications,” Moore said.


The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control is from 2017-2020. For those aged 2-19 years old, the prevalence of obesity was nearly 20 percent, meaning it affected more than 14 million children and adolescents. The same research indicated that obese children could experience social and psychological issues, such as low self-esteem, bullying, and depression, further affecting their overall wellbeing.


“Addressing childhood obesity requires a multifaceted approach that includes promoting healthy eating habits, regular physical activity, and supportive environments in homes, schools, and communities. Early education about the importance of a balanced diet and active lifestyle are imperative,” Moore explained.

A child eats lunch at a Head Start site.

Moore provided several ideas to help families make nutrition fun and engaging for young children:


  • Get creative with meals: Use cookie cutters to create fun shapes with fruits and vegetables or make a colorful fruit salad together.

  • Cook together: Involve children in meal preparation. Let them help wash the vegetables, mix the ingredients, or assemble their own healthy snacks.

  • Storytelling with food: Create stories using different foods as characters. This can make mealtime more exciting and encourage children to try new foods.

  • Food art: Turn mealtime into a creative activity by arranging food to create fun designs and faces.

  • Grow a garden: Plan a small garden with vegetables or herbs. Children can learn about where food comes from and enjoy the process of growing their own produce.

Happy National Nutrition Month!

 

Give your child a Head Start and enroll today! Click here.


Step Forward Head Start is hiring!


The agency is offering a sign-on bonus of $1,000 for full time employees and $500 for part-time employees.


Positions include teachers, family service workers, nutrition aides and more. Step Forward Head Start is looking for education staff passionate about preparing young students for the future and helping them develop a love for learning early. Take a step toward a new fulfilling career today! Learn more and apply to open positions here.

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