The children of Estes Children’s Cottage are not the only ones who enjoy spoonFULL’s meals

SpoonFULL graphic with a young boy and girl

It is exciting to hear that Child Care Services Association (CCSA) is expanding its presence during this time of difficulty for those providing child care services and all who contribute to them. The [CCSA’s spoonFULL] Food Program means many things to us as a small center-in-residence who has used the service ever since our inception. I was the opening director at a child care center in Chapel Hill in 2002 when I was introduced to this program. Three years later, with my daughter graduating and choosing to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening her own center, we actually relocated to Chapel Hill in part because of [CCSA’s spoonFULL] program which at the time was unique to Chapel Hill.

With so many items to address with the opening of a new center, it was nice to not have shopping and preparation of food, menus and USDA guidelines not be on that list. We are not on any federal reimbursement program because we are considered for profit, but the fact that they do so much of the paperwork for that is also a great advantage and timesaver.  And lest we forget, the myriad of food allergies and requests that are taken care of automatically by the kitchen staff once we have a new child sign up is a lifesaver, even literally.

As for our personal experience since opening, from the beginning, [the spoonFULL] program has been incorporated into our curriculum. We are influenced by NAEYC best practices and the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and as such practice family-style dining and supporting the capabilities of young children. There also are so many benefits to the variety of foods offered and the exposure children get to food they may not see outside of the school at a time when their tastes are still being developed. Robert and the rest of the kitchen staff have always been very open to suggestions, as we have at times critiqued toddler equivalents and some menu choices. They have also taken the time to incorporate our food suggestions such as beets, grits and grapes over the years.

The children are well acquainted with how and when our food arrives. At first, we had delivery, and the “food man” was an integral part of our morning since he entered through our classroom [to deliver the food]. He always had high fives for all of the children and asked them how their day was going. We actually had a small Duplo delivery truck with Duplo food blocks and the children re-created his arrival in the block area. When times changed and we had to go to self-pickup due to their charges not paying our costs, the children now look forward to our car going and returning with the food in the back so that it can be prepped for their use.

Our children were so interested in the preparation of our food and our reference to Robert, [a now-retired staff member of the Chapel Hill kitchen], they wrote him a letter asking him questions such as what did he look like and his favorite food. He obliged, happily, with a photo and answers to all of their questions. The culmination of their interest was a town bus field trip to the kitchen while they were in action. The children were able to observe the kitchen in action and taste-test a new dish. A few parents joined us for the trip and we documented the trip and it was shared with families and in the Farm to School Newsletter.

Over the years the children have had many favorite dishes and it is heartening when you hear a child say, “Cooked cabbaged… my favorite!” One boy who graduated from our program remarked several years later that he missed “Robert’s pumpkin soup.” And just last week another child said he liked our pita bread pizza better than what they order-in at home.

As teachers in the program, we all look forward to joining in and eating the same food as the children. It is well worth the cost to set good examples for the children.  We all, too, have our favorite dishes and look forward to many including the new tuna melts introduced this year, as well as all of the homemade soups in which our children consume so many vegetables and ask for more. We also love the last-minute changes when the farmer’s market has a surplus of strawberries or watermelons and they give the kitchen a call.

Many families lament to us how much they and their children will miss the [spoonFULL] Food Program when they leave our program. Several parents have told us that when looking for their child’s next school they will only consider programs that provide meals because of the convenience, nutritional aspects and their child’s varied palate and how well they eat at our program.

We thank all of the [spoonFULL] Food Program staff for all of their hard work and care put into planning and serving our meals.