Despite an abundance of healthy food, many children grow up struggling with poor eating habits and food insecurity. Nutrition graduate student Diana Myers brings fun, creative ways to change these poor habits in preschoolers enrolled in the Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park.
Part of Myers’ required hours of practical community nutrition experience, her work at Little Ones is more of a labor of love. A student in the graduate nutrition coordinated program, Myers must complete 1,200 hours of nutrition rotations in four categories – management, community, clinical and enrichment. She chose Little Ones for her community rotation due to her experiences working with small children as a nanny and a farm-to-school intern with Georgia Organics.
Little Ones Learning Center welcomed Myers’ nutrition work as the center and staff already incorporate the basics of healthy food into general learning. The children hear “Z is for zucchini” while learning their ABCs.
Myers and Barbara Leydecker, her student colleague, introduce the children to all aspects of food development in the center’s garden. Lessons focus on how things grow from seed, the importance of worms and bees in plant growth and development, and how fruits and vegetables form. Tasting a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables completes the learning cycle.
“They are so intrigued and excited by what they’ve learned and then see. [The children] may see a bee in the garden and get excited instead of scared because they know the role bees play in growing food,” Myers said.
Myers introduces different fruits and vegetables to the children and teaches them that it’s okay to dislike foods, but they must respect other’s tastes. She says children may experience taste changes and interests later in life and learn to like foods they’ve previously disliked.
“Don’t yuk my yum,” she says.
Myers and Little Ones Learning Center bring families into nutrition learning to impact the parents and help the children. Unique to the center is a farmer’s market with internal currency for parents to shop with their children. The children enjoy selecting produce because they have tasted it and are aware of what they like.
The center also sponsored a “Taste of Little Ones” community event planned by Myers and Leydecker on July 13. Local chefs and culinary staff demonstrated and cooked for the children and families. Community leaders, police and firefighters were invited to attend and meet the children and families to strengthen community ties.
Myers says she has been pleasantly surprised by the children’s understanding of what they have learned.
“I enjoy seeing them share their knowledge about how a seed grows and becomes a plant and then how to cook and eat the fruit or vegetable. Educating the children on healthy dietary habits at a young age is important to their future success. It’s a whole lot easier to build healthy, new habits than to break old habits,” Myers says.