Written by Betty-Anne White

What we do makes a difference, and how we do it, makes an even bigger difference.

We all know that it takes a lot of money to feed the children in our care, which is why Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA) is eager to get every provider enrolled in the federally-funded Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) it administers. We know this does not cover all our costs to feed children but rather it supplements our food budget to equip us to serve healthy foods to young growing bodies. Quite literally, the food we serve becomes the building blocks for their brains, immune systems, nervous systems, muscles – the list could go on. How the children behave while in our care can even be connected to the food we serve.

As we are all very well aware, children copy everything we do, which is why they want our phones and keys so badly! However, copying our behavior is more important when it comes to the food we serve and eat. The ripple effect of our high standards can impact both the children, as they grow to become adults, as well as their entire family. I know that my family and my own children’s eating improved after we had joined the WECA Food Program. There were so many things I didn’t realize when I was a parent! The WECA Food Program – particularly my Area Coordinator – gave me encouragement and support to stretch the variety of foods I served instead of just sticking to “kid’s food.”

As we celebrate national CACFP Week, there is a quick story I would like to share with you. Recently, I received a phone call from one of the children I used to care for who is now a 26-year-old man. He called me to let me know that he eats primarily vegetables, along with occasional fish and chicken, because of the foods I served while he was in my child care program.

He just wanted to thank me for changing the trajectory of his life.

When his family first came to my program, they ate ZERO fruits and veggies: their boast of “vegetables,” included tater tots and ketchup. They didn’t eat bananas or even canned peaches. I tried so hard to get them to switch to better foods. In addition to lack of exposure, the children were on medication that significantly suppressed their natural hunger response. So, I began making protein shakes with tofu and frozen fruits. I added whipped cream and a light dusting of sprinkles as an enticement, even including a straw cut down to be “their size.” Then I added spinach on St. Patrick’s Day. I used various strategies, like including extra butter or seasoning and making 100% fruit and veggie bars that I cut into bite-sized pieces. I offered smaller servings, better presentations, and individual baggies of snacks when we went outside. Slowly, they began to eat more and more, even putting on some much-needed weight.

I wanted to share this story with all of you because in the more than 20 years of providing child care, that was the only phone call I received. You may not have received any calls, BUT this phone call really belongs to all of us who are working hard to change the next generation. The mother of this family and I have remained friends, and she now cooks – with absolute delight! – a wide variety of foods for her growing family. She is adamantly against processed foods, and now has more kitchen gadgets than a chef at a 5-star restaurant.

The work we do matters. This story exemplifies what is happening in each of our programs. It is not “my” story, it is OUR story.

CACFP Week Provider Resources:

Activity Ideas – English and Spanish

Activity Sheet Bundle

Trying New Foods Video

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