Supporting Health and Wellness in Child Care Environments
Supporting Health and Wellness in Child Care Environments

Taking Steps to Healthy Success Supports Healthy Child Care Environments

With childhood obesity rates at an all-time high, promoting physical activity and healthy eating in child care settings is more important than ever. On average, children consume two-thirds of their daily calories during traditional child care hours.

Taking Steps to Healthy Success, a five-year project funded by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Nemours Foundation, is combatting obesity and fostering healthy lifestyles by offering child care providers training and resources. After three years in the project, The Family Conservancy (TFC) will have reached nearly 70 Kansas City-area child care centers through the learning collaborative, which engages each group of child care providers for a 12-month period.

While needs of each program are different, Taking Steps to Healthy Success supports healthier environments for children, their families, and staff by:

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Reducing screen time
  • Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption
  • Providing nutrition and breastfeeding support
  • Engaging families as partners
  • Meeting the center’s health and wellness goals

Participating programs identify areas of improvement in a pre-program assessment. Young Professors Preschool, who completed the program in June 2016, joined the collaborative with several ideas for growth in mind. However, throughout their program year, and with the coaching, professional development and resources provided by TFC, the benefits of their investment of time far exceed their expectations.

After learning ways to cut hidden calories, Young Professors Preschool leadership worked closely with their kitchen team examining the nutritional content of the breakfasts, lunches and snacks they were serving. A big change was replacing fruit juices, which are often loaded with sugar, with whole fruits. Staff also began sharing information and healthy recipes at parent-teacher conferences.

In addition to looking at the food they serve and encouraging parents to examine what they serve in their homes, the TFC coach encouraged them to look at their environment to ensure it supported the changes they were making — they replaced toy cupcakes and cakes with fruits and vegetables and added several books that introduced and modeled healthy eating.

To ensure lasting results, the programs are encouraged to create healthy policies. One policy change makes it a requirement to serve only healthy snacks at center family nights. At an annual holiday celebration last December, hot chocolate, danishes and doughnuts were replaced with a yogurt bar that included granola and fresh fruit. Another policy now requires staff refrain from consuming unhealthy foods and beverages in front of the children. McDonald’s sodas, which were frequently seen in classrooms following lunch, are now kept out of the school.

In addition to improving their menus and implementing several policy changes, the entire Young Professors Preschool team served as role models for the children. For owner Al Smith, participating in the project struck a personal cord. As the program began implementing positive changes, Al and the entire team did too. Al, who was on medications for diabetes and high blood pressure, saw dramatic health improvement. By the fifth and final full-day training session he was no longer taking the medications. Collectively, the team lost more than 200 pounds.