In 2006, the YWCA of the City of New York collaborated with EAT FOOD to develop a pilot food-policy program for three of its Early Learning Center preschool sites. The YWCA’s primary focus was to improve and restructure existing menu cycles, overall food and beverage quality, and nutrition policies. EAT FOOD responded with a unique, interdisciplinary food- and nutrition-education program for the Early Learning Centers’ teaching staff, kitchen staff, and preschool population.
In order to overhaul the YWCA’s food-and-beverage program, EAT FOOD developed a comprehensive approach:
1. create an effective nutrition policy that includes healthy guidelines for menu planning and food purchasing;
2. implement changes and improvements for all meals and snacks served to students;
3. provide in-depth workshops, one-on-one training, and on-site support for staff cooks;
4. create and implement an accompanying 12-month nutrition curriculum for students, teaching staff, administrators, and parents.
Consumption of high-fat, high-sugar, ultra-processed foods with little to no nutritional value were limited. Instead, EF provided healthier—but still appealing—alternatives. EF’s menus introduced new flavors, ingredients, and culturally diverse dishes to students and teachers while successfully meeting federal Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP) nutrition requirements for creditable foods.
To execute these proposed changes, EF worked closely with staff cooks and provided them with encouragement and training to prepare meals from scratch using wholesome, nutrient-dense foods (including whole grains, lean meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables). New recipes employed healthier cooking techniques such as roasting and steaming, as well as cooking with “good fats” (olive oil or canola oil). Training sessions also helped cooks with new skills and the more complex aspects of the new nutrition policy, including:
• scaling recipes accurately and efficiently when preparing meals for large groups of children;
• menu planning and purchasing healthier ingredients in large volumes while still staying within budget guidelines;
• determining appropriate per-recipe yields and individual serving sizes for specific age groups (in compliance with CACFP regulations);
• adapting recipes from various outside sources to create meals that meet CACFP nutrition requirements.
With this new policy and its subsequent changes, EF helped to ensure that all aspects of food and nutrition within the YWCA’s Early Learning Centers promoted the students’ long-term health and well-being.
To supplement the significant changes happening in the kitchen, EAT FOOD developed a comprehensive curriculum to be used in the classrooms. The curriculum was created to provide children with a well-rounded, progressive understanding of food and nutrition. New menus were developed to correspond with monthly lesson plans. For example, December was “Citrus Month,” and students learned about the origins of citrus fruits, made citrus-based art, and enjoyed various citrus recipes during mealtimes. To ensure that the parents were aware and supportive of the changes, EAT FOOD produced a monthly newsletter that was distributed to the families.
Finally, EAT FOOD offered guidance to the parents, cooks, and teachers about encouraging young children to try and appreciate new foods and helping them embrace such significant changes to their everyday lives.
After one year, a comprehensive evaluation showed that the program works.
• 100% of the participating cooks agree that the new Lifetime Eating Program menus are easier to execute than the original menus. All cooks have made healthy changes to their own eating habits during the last 6 months, and 60% report that students’ plate waste has decreased with the new menu.
• 100% of parents agree that changes to the menu were positive, and 60% feel their children eat more fruits and vegetables than they did 6 months prior to the new menu. Almost 40% of students have requested new foods at home after learning about them in school.
• 100% of directors agree that students are eating the foods being served most of the time.
• 73% of teachers say the children are now willing to try more foods.
In fact, the Lifetime Eating Program has been such a success, the Children’s Aid Society and Brooklyn Kindergarten Society approached EAT FOOD about designing similar programs.