Community Action Early Head Start and Head Start:
Ensuring Child Nutrition and Wellness
One Seed at a Time
Maria is a single mother of two who – like many parents – has long desired to get her children to eat more fruits and vegetables. But she wasn’t sure where to start. Any time she tried to introduce a fruit or vegetable, her children didn’t exactly respond favorably. And though she had an oven, she had never turned it on.
For years, Jess had dreamed about planning a garden. She loved the idea of being able to grow her own food, but wasn’t sure if she had the space in her yard to do so. Her children were excited about the prospect of a garden, too. The family had a vision – they just needed the knowledge and tools to get started.
Maria and Jess are participants of Growing Great Beginnings – a nutrition/wellness education project designed to positively impact health behaviors offered within Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties’ Early Head Start and Head Start programs. Growing Great Beginnings was first piloted in 2013 with a grant from the Community Health Endowment of Lincoln, and has since received financial support from Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.
The program’s Family Educators, Family Engagement Specialists, and Teachers all play a role in facilitating Growing Great Beginnings lessons. And some families, like Maria’s and Jess’s, have also had the opportunity to seek additional supports from the program’s Nutrition and Wellness Coach, Sheila Stratton. Sheila helps families set goals and – as a team – they work together on developing a plan to support achievement of those goals. With Sheila’s support, Maria has overcome her apprehension of cracking an egg and finally turned her oven on to make zucchini bread, which the family loved. Sheila has also supported Jess in her goal to construct a garden. Recently, Jess and her family celebrated their first harvest – everything from tomatoes, to peppers, to green beans. Jess’s daughter, Syllas, has loved spending her summer tending to her family’s new gardens.
The project also gives children and families the opportunity to participate in activities designed to immerse them in gardening and the goodness of fresh fruits and vegetables. After all, research indicates that children are more likely to try fruits and vegetables if they’ve had a part in growing them. On October 26th, Community Action’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs will be celebrating the Midwest Great Apple Crunch. Participating enrolled children will get an apple and will be prompted to take a bite after saying, in unison, “5-4-3-2-1 Crunch!” Teachers will then use the apple as a teaching medium in a lesson intended to inspire children to develop a love for apples, one type of healthy food.
Projects like Growing Great Beginnings are helping to ensure long-term health outcomes for children during their most critical developmental years. For more information about Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties and how to help, visit www.communityactionatwork.org.