MHCC Aims to Improve Children’s Diets with Local Fruits and Vegetables
Posted June 20, 2012
Fewer than half of children in the United States meet their daily recommended intake for fruits and vegetables. Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC), in partnership with Portland State University (PSU), is working to remedy this in East Multnomah County through Harvest for Healthy Kids: Oregon Farm-to-Childcare. The program was recognized recently for excellence in community-based research.
Harvest for Healthy Kids is a community-academic project of the Head Start program. Together, MHCC and PSU aim to improve eating habits among low-income and racially or ethnically diverse preschoolers. Through foodservice modifications, classroom education, family outreach and funding from Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Harvest for Healthy Kids is doing just that.
“The program targets the childcare setting to try to affect change during an intervention period, early in childhood,” says Jennifer Hallman, from MHCC’s Head Start program. “Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are associated with reduced risk of obesity and other diet-related diseases such as diabetes. The program has integrated regionally grown fruits and vegetables (such as beets, cabbage, winter squash, root vegetables, carrots and berries) into Head Start meals and snacks.”
MHCC to Expand Program to all 12 Head Start Sites
The program was first introduced at the North Powellhurst Head Start site earlier this year. Classrooms received fresh and locally grown vegetables and fruits weekly in their meals and snacks from local producers such as Dancing Roots Farm in Troutdale and Growers’ Outlet.
“I picked up beets at a farm that had just been harvested and then delivered them to the kitchen and to the classrooms,” says Hallman. “They were beautiful. The children were able to see the beet greens and wash off the dirt!”
Next year, all 12 MHCC Head Start sites will receive the featured fruits and vegetables of the month for kids’ meals and snacks. A group of teachers will also be trained to use the curriculum. Researchers will then compare the children who have received the education with the children who did not receive the education to determine the additional benefit of education on children’s food preferences.
“We plan to adapt the program for infants and toddlers, expand it to other childcare centers and provide service-learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students,” says Hallman.
By Jamilyn Mohr