The Garden of Eatin’ program of the North Bay Children’s Center (NBCC), which incorporates garden experiences and a culture of wellness into the daily curriculum of over 400 children, is aimed at setting the course for a lifetime of healthy choices. Though the children are at the core of this program, the focus extends beyond what the children eat, their required time in the garden, and the amount of activity needed each day. Holding all staff and teachers to our internal standard of heath as well, not only inspires healthy choices among NBCC adults, but it also allows for positive modeling, which is a critical component to creating long lasting healthy habits.
NBCC uses produce from our gardens, the local food bank and/or we purchase seasonal produce for nutrition education and farm to preschool activities. Our nutrition educator is a volunteer for Petaluma Bounty (Bounty) and when she gleans produce for the Bounty, they give NBCC some of the produce for our activities and to distribute to families we serve. The preparation of our meals is not consistent from site to site since each program is very unique. Two of our centers receive their meals/snacks from the Santa Rosa City Schools District – we augment their meals with fresh fruits and vegetables. One of our centers in Petaluma has a cook who prepares their healthy snacks for our students. Another center in Petaluma provides healthy snacks – including produce from the local food bank and their garden, but the lunches are all brought from home. At our Novato center, we have two full time chefs who prepare all meals and snacks for the children enrolled at this location. She receives her produce from the local food bank and/or our garden.
This year as a recipient of the California Farm to Preschool mini-grant we will be subscribing to Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)‘s Harvest of the Month Tasting Kits to deliver farm fresh produce to the project’s classrooms so teachers can extend their Farm to Preschool nutrition education activities to include food and farming education, and allow kids to taste fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. The goal of this project is to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by connecting students to local California family farmers through taste tests and in-class lessons.
Started in 2006 when it became obvious that we, as a child care facility that served meals to our children each day, had a responsibility to act on the growing childhood obesity epidemic, the North Bay Children’s Center took a ground-up approach to instilling healthy habits. Our vision held that through involving children in the process of planting and harvesting seasonal fruits and vegetables, an appetite for real food would develop, and proper nutrients would be consumed along the way.
Today, the Garden of Eatin’ provides not only nourishment, but a source of exploration, discovery, and enjoyment. The time spent in the garden is some of the most cherished time of our children, teachers, and families. The organic approach to healthy habit development that the garden provides is reinforced through an intentional Garden of Eatin’ curriculum that helps to sustain the habits and curiosities sparked outdoors, and supports the school readiness program indoors. The curriculum was designed to align with the California Department of Education’s Preschool Learning Foundation‘s and DRDP measures for health and physical education. Weekly nutrition education activities in each classroom incorporate gross motor exercises, taste testing, and cooking projects into writing, math, and science lessons.
Institutional practices play an important role in creating our culture of health. The policies that we initially established around the child’s experience, such as eliminating processed foods, not allowing foods to be brought from home, and a Celebrations Policy that does not allow the use of food (i.e. cake, cookies) to be used in conjunction with birthdays and holidays, have been expanded to include our teaching staff. NBCC’s staff wellness policies includes a ban on fast food on campus and encourages teachers to sit with the children and eat breakfast and lunch, modeling healthy choices and behaviors. And, knowing that parent engagement is critical in sustaining our culture, we distribute produce from the local food bank to our families each week reinforcing what the kids are tasting in the classrooms, distribute Harvest of the Month newsletters with healthy recipes, and have a Healthy Choices Food Pantry on our campus on the weekend.
North Bay Children’s Center provides comprehensive high-quality child care and early education programs fueled by their vision of excellence and a spirit of innovation. To learn more, please visit their website.