This article originally appeard in The Health Journal.
It’s no secret that healthy, fit children tend to grow into healthy, fit adults. The key, according to Janet Yang, is integrating knowledge about nutrition and healthy activities–and making it fun for the long haul.
For the past 14 years, Yang has served as director of the Williamsburg Campus Child Care Center (WCCC) located on the campus of The College of William & Mary. The Center’s hallmark is a high quality early childhood environment that fosters each child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive growth and development, with a strong emphasis on family involvement. Therefore, the teachers and staff members at the Center are committed to making fitness a priority–not just for the sake of fun, but for the sake of establishing good habits and practices.
“Society in general doesn’t understand the importance of that first five years,” Yang says. “It sets the stage for the years to come.”
But first, a word about nutrition.
Yang and her staff work closely with Jeff McClure, head of the Sodexo team that oversees the dining services function for William & Mary. Menus are based on the same menus designed for the college students and are developed by the executive campus chef in conjunction with a dietitian.
Healthy and delicious are not mutually exclusive terms. The children at WCCC enjoy lunches that range from chicken quesadillas to homemade soups to pizzas on whole grain flat breads (the latter made with homemade tomato sauce). There are no fried foods.
“If we do grilled cheese, it’s going to be on whole grain bread; if we do sloppy joes, we will use ground turkey,” McClure says. “Burgers will be veggie burgers. Grilled chicken entrees are fresh and antibiotic-free.”
There is also a push toward more fresh or frozen fruit offerings over canned fruits with a lot of hidden sugar.
“And, of course, the food we provide also has to meet all USDA health requirements,” he says.
Once they are fueled up, the children are ready for a variety of fun activities. Outdoor time is a regular component of the children’s day, whether it’s spent playing on the Center’s playgrounds or taking walks in Colonial Williamsburg.
“One thing that sets us apart is our close proximity to Colonial Williamsburg and the William & Mary campus,” Yang says. “When children get that outdoor time, we see that their behavior and mood improves.”
There are also special physical-fitness themed days like kite-flying in the spring and sports-themed activities based on current events. Of course, when it rains the teachers plan indoor physical activities for the children. There is even yoga.
“Our pre-K kids have yoga once a week and they love that class! The children read a story that has yoga poses incorporated into it and they act them out,” shares Yang.
WCCC has also participated in the Color Me Healthy initiative, a partnership between the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the NC Division of Public Health (See below).
“We are always interested in new ways to incorporate fitness and nutrition into our busy day,” Yang says.
COLOR ME HEALTHY
Color Me Healthy is a partnership between the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the NC Division of Public Health. The program was created to get pre-K children excited about eating smart and moving their little bodies. The curriculum is available online at colormehealthy.com and is designed to stimulate all of the senses: touch, smell, sight, sound and, of course, taste. Through the use of color, music and exploration, young children learn that healthy food and physical activity are fun. Though it was designed primarily for family day care settings, Head Start classrooms, child care centers serving 4 and 5 year olds, and some kindergarten classrooms also use the program.