Head Start uses local ingredients to feed children

June 14, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Strawberry cream cheese triangles are a favorite and healthful snack at Head Start of Washington County's Elgin Station.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff photographer

Chili cheese fries isn't a food group. Neither is cotton candy.

So don't expect to find them on the summer menu at Head Start of Washington County.

Instead, it's all about fresh fruit and vegetables direct from local growers.

Although summer vacation is in full swing, hundreds of preschoolers spend June, July and August just as they do the rest of the year at a Head Start program.

And their day includes meals.

According to Jennifer Barrett, developmental services manager, Head Start provides breakfast and lunch for 112 children in the part-day program during the summer months. Head Start's full-day option at Elgin Center in Hagerstown's West End offers meals plus snacks to 48 children.

But while summertime can mean falling off the good nutrition wagon for many youngsters, that's not the case at Head Start.

"We provide the healthiest of foods year-round," Barrett said.

Because the nonprofit program works with children up to the age of 5, helping them get a good nutritious start in life is very important, she said.

"At Head Start, we focus on talking about portion sizes, since we follow USDA guidelines," she said. "And, because a big concern at Head Start is allergies, children are not allowed to bring any food to our sites. We provide everything."

During the summer months, it's easy to prepare healthful meals and snacks because of the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, said Terri Donaway, food service manager.

"At Head Start, we take advantage of using local farmer's produce," she said.

So while their stay-at-home counterparts might be eating potato chips or calorie-laden soft drinks, Head Start youngsters are enjoying yogurt sundaes and whole-wheat soft pretzels.

There are other options to greasy, fatty foods, especially at snack time, Donaway said. 

"At Head Start, we try not to serve snacks too close to a meal. And healthy options include carrots, apple slices, fresh fruit and fruit crisps," she said.

Both Barrett and Donaway said Head Start encourages children to drink more fluids during hot summer days, but not soda.

"I have learned as a parent it's better to keep soda out of your home," said Barrett. "That way, it's not a temptation. At Head Start we offer 100 percent juice, in limited amounts, milk and water."

As part of the Head Start program, Barrett said preschoolers are learning at an early age the importance of following a healthy lifestyle. Several classes recently began a program sponsored by Meritus Medical Center, called Let's Go! 

The program helps children be healthy by working with families and other partners to improve eating habits and to be more physically active.

"Lots of the children know what 5-2-1-0 means," Barrett said, which means five or more fruits and vegetables; two hours or less of recreational screen time; one hour or more of physical activity; and zero sugary drinks with more water and low fat milk.

Strawberry cream cheese triangles

1 whole-wheat flour tortilla

1 teaspoon cream cheese

1/4 cup sliced strawberries

Spread cream cheese on a tortilla, top with strawberries and slice like a pizza.

Yogurt sundae

1 cup low-fat yogurt

1/4 cup blueberries

1/4 cup strawberries

1/2 cup granola cereal

Layer ingredients in a glass or bowl and top with granola.

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