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YWCA of Minneapolis Early Childhood Education Menus Focus on Variety and Quality

By Clare Sanford, Early Childhood Education Enrollment and Nutrition Manager, YWCA of Minneapolis
April 5, 2013
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The weather has finally started to turn, and with it change the menus for our three Minneapolis Children’s Centers. I’m happy to share the new version, hot off the presses, which will begin this Monday, April 8. Take a look at our menu to see what children will be eating over the coming months.

Increasing nutrition, variety and cultural diversity in food are goals we aim for through our nutrition program. Meals in our centers are about much more than satisfying hunger. They are times for exploration, experimentation, sensory engagement, practicing motor skills and learning the arts of manners and mealtime conversation. Staff eat with the children, and many classrooms offer food family style, with children serving themselves and deciding what and how much to eat. They are also part of school readiness: big changes have been made to the National School Lunch Program over the last few years, and we want our children’s experience with food in our centers to mirror what they’ll encounter in kindergarten and beyond. Beets? Whole grains? Fritatta? Naan? I know for certain that nothing of the sort was in my school lunch tray 25 years ago, when corn dogs, fish sticks and greasy pizza rectangles were the norm. And liver and onions — No joke, my elementary school served liver and onions to first-graders.

Here at the YWCA of Minneapolis, rotating seasonal menus are created twice each year: one for spring/summer and another for fall/winter. Each menu covers six weeks, and my goal is to have 30 different lunch entrees in that time, with no repeats! We are proud to serve an incredibly diverse group of families and staff, and want our menu to reflect that value. This spring, we’ll try out Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Suqqar and Hmong Beef Fried Rice. We’ll continue to offer greater vegetarian options for all children, not just those with vegetarian diets. We’ll introduce some things that likely haven’t been on the menu before, including jicama, edamame, Basmati rice and mango. We’ll continue to include fish on the menu, but none of it in stick form. We’ll continue to offer as many whole-grain products as we can find. In fact, all food products throughout the menu have been specifically chosen to reduce saturated fat, sodium, sugar and food dyes. In a culture of fast and plentiful processed food, this can at times be an uphill battle, but we will keep trying to do our part.

We don’t expect kids to go crazy with delight every time a new food appears at the table. (Hey, I’m a parent of a toddler and a preschooler.) Research shows that young children may have to have a new food introduced to them 10 or 15 times before they even decide to try it. If a child shows no interest now in a particular item it will show up again, and again and again over the repeating menu cycle. Maybe, at first, a child wants nothing to do with couscous. But with repeated exposures, he touches it, smells it, sees others eating it, and it becomes less foreign.  Eventually, he may even decide to taste it. Or he may not. And that’s just fine. The important thing is that we’ve offered children ample opportunities to learn about different foods and make their own educated choices. And have no fear — a glance at the menu shows that our kids will still be chowing down on plenty of “familiar foods” (Burgers! Pizza! Grilled Cheese!) with a healthier take, whether that means swapping beef for lower-fat turkey in a sloppy joe or serving our burgers with whole-grain buns and vitamin-rich sweet potato fries.

I appreciate the opportunity to share a bit about the many things we’re trying to accomplish through our nutrition program. My virtual door is always open for questions, comments, concerns and suggestions. Remember, too, that parents are always welcome to share a meal with their children — just please try to give several days’ notice so that our cooks can plan to feed a few extra grownups!