6 Tips For Affordable Healthy Local Food In Your Child Care

Can you envision access to healthy local foods for children under five? How about creating opportunities to learn the importance of nutrition and what healthy foods look like? Introducing children to healthy foods through Farm to Child Care activities and curriculum empowers them to cultivate a foundation of healthy eating behaviors. Knowing your farmer and how the food is grown is an important connection to what goes into your food. The key concept to note here: know what you are eating and transfer that knowledge to your children. Because kids are excited to learn where things come from, where they grow, how they grow, and what they taste like! Children are naturally inquisitive and they can ask upwards of 400 questions a day. That gives child care providers a unique advantage, they have the ability to empower children to eat healthier because children under five spend on average 30+ hours a week with a care provide; these ages are the most influential years of developing taste preferences. So let’s find out ways to connect these kids with affordable, healthy, local food.

Tip 1: Start Small

According to most providers who have incorporated Farm to Child Care concepts, the best advice to implement change is to start small. Like Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind.” It’s the small things that count because they fit into the much larger picture. Connect with partners and get the conversation ‘growing.’ You can start small with a few cup, fill with soil, and let the kids plant a seed. Afterward, place it on a windowsill, water it, and watch it grow.

Tip 2: Visit the Farm to Child Care resources on our website

Renewing the Countryside has compiled resources over the years that include guides, curricula, activities, meal planning and garden planning. I’ve found that Pinterest has thousands of activities and useful ways to reduce costs. Another excellent source of information are the providers who have already taken the F2CC training. Additionally, every county has a Master Gardener that you can contact to ask questions, so take advantage of the free resource.

Tip 3: Find a way to grow or buy local

Tip one suggests starting small, you can ask your food distributor to substitute local produce when they have it available. If you aren’t already taking advantage of the awesome Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), you should! By obtaining local food, you help farmers stay on their land and reinforce local economies. For each meal provided with locally grown produce, you provide nutrition, boost immune systems, reduce obesity, raise self-esteem, and strengthen local food awareness. Gardening in your backyard is more affordable than you think, a square foot garden can produce enough to share a snack or a side of vegetables for lunches. For more information join clubs, talk to your community and talk to parents.

Tip 4: Container gardens can grow food anywhere to learn or eat

There are many variations of gardens: container gardens, raised garden beds, or in-ground gardens. Container gardening can help those who have no yard, very little yard, or can’t plant in their yard. Containers can be placed on decks, sidewalks, or indoor near a window, and should be food-grade. Possible examples: **

  • Container tubs

  • Laundry baskets lined with burlap

  • Ice cream pails

  • 5-gallon buckets

  • Cinder blocks

  • Flower pots

  • Small plastic pools

  • Rain gutters (good for hanging strawberries)

 

Tip 5: Find materials in your community

Start with book themes of gardening, nutrition, and healthy eating. Books are great tools for learning, and you can purchase them from online websites, local thrift stores, or borrow from your library. Myself? I have found nutrition and gardening books at thrift stores and my kids love them! Additionally, you can print out guides from online resources, including monthly meal plans which integrate seasonal produce. The lowest price to buy fruits and vegetables is when they are in season. I would suggest investing in a deep freezer, you can freeze vegetables and fruits, and use them all year. If you want to grow a garden, ask your neighbors for materials like wood, fencing, stakes, old tomato cages, pots or containers. Your neighborhood might have a community garden which you could visit. Lastly, Renewing the Countryside has a page dedicated to resources for providers, and for parents interested in healthy local foods.

Tip 6: Connect with people growing food in your area

CSA (community supported agriculture) shares are a great way to get a variety of different produce. Though they require an upfront expense, in the long run, are usually the same price or less, than buying from your local grocery store. When buying from a CSA, you have the opportunity to learn about how that produce is grown; is it organic? Non-GMO? Do they use pesticides? The possibilities of finding cultural and higher quality varieties are quite substantial. Look in the Minnesota Grown Directory or Local Harvest for CSA shares. Farmers markets are also a wonderful place to learn about your local food, the farmers, how they grow their produce, and perhaps talk to farmers for a visit to their farm or your child care.

 

There you have it. Six tips for affording healthy local food, and you know what else? These tips can be attributed for any family that wants to afford healthy local food, and teach their kids too.

Any questions? you can reach me at cassie@rtcinfo.org

 


**Disclaimer: I would also suggest checking with your local health department to ensure that local regulations, permit produce from a private garden, and if you have additional questions.

***At the beginning of the farming year, most farmers don’t have the money they need to complete important and necessary tasks on the farm because they haven’t made money off their harvest yet. As a result, farmers often take out loans for this money. The CSA farming model instead provides farmers this working capital up front, decreasing reliance on loans and increasing monetary stability.

 

Resources:

CSA shares, Farmers Markets: http://minnesotagrown.com/
CSA shares, Farmers Markets:http://www.localharvest.org/minneapolis-mn
CSA shares: http://urbanrootsmn.org/programs/csa/
CSA vs Grocery Store: http://www.stretcher.com/stories/11/11nov14d.cfm
Numerous Farm to Child Care resources: http://www.renewingthecountryside.org/more_f2cc_resources

Photo Resources:

First picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/8269522325/
Second picture: saiberiac: downstairs container garden