Photo credit: Linden Tree Photography
Pre-schoolers at Little Ones Learning Center sit around a table calmly passing a green salad in a plastic bowl, serving him or herself with a pair of tongs. The classroom teacher oversees the production, but a Georgia State University nutrition student is responsible for the orderly process. Camira Williams-Liggins, a master’s nutrition coordinated program student, made family-style dining for the 3-4-year-old class at Little Ones a reality.
Little Ones Early Childhood Program Administrator Wande Okunoren-Meadows and center administrators wanted to have family-style dining but felt it was extra work for the classroom teachers. Williams-Liggins took on the challenge during her 3-week internship. She started small, teaching the children to select and serve themselves a piece of fruit for lunch. Teachers pre-plated all the other food. Later, as the children learned to use a variety of utensils, they served their salads. The benefits are more than building hand-eye coordination.
“It makes the children more excited to eat salad since they serve themselves,” said Williams-Liggins. “Also they are more empowered to select their portion size.” Teachers oversee the child’s final portion size to meet USDA recommendations, as the child may plate only a couple of peas. Eating fruits and vegetables becomes a pleasurable experience, significant as few children eat the USDA recommended a balanced diet and many will go days without vegetables.
Establishing life-long good nutrition habits is a hallmark of the Little Ones Learning Center.
“[It’s] an ideal time because kids are curious and their tastes aren’t set. The center makes fruits and vegetables less threatening,” said Lucas Tesina, another CP intern. Okunoren-Meadows describes Tesina as “a fire starter,” saying the children flocked to him.
Previously, Tesina taught English to 5 through 8-year-olds in South Korea, so he was prepared for Little Ones. He made a comprehensive video, filming with his cellphone video camera and editing footage after hours. Tesina produced a website ready piece showcasing Little Ones commitment to nutrition. Three preschoolers speak on camera about broccoli, the “Harvest of the Month.” The children, prompted by Tesina, tell what they have learned. The video also shows the center’s facilities and its massive garden, concluding with a clip of family-style dining in action.
Okunoren-Meadows debuted the video for the Georgia Organics board members, as she thought it captured the essence of Little Ones’ Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) mission. She will use the video when seeking additional partners to sustain the center’s work.
Third intern Susana Morphis took on the challenge of revamping sacred birthday celebrations to make the experience more wholesome.
“The trigger was when I saw a mom bring in a sheet cake and serve pizza for a child’s birthday. This seemed a little out of place at Little Ones, since they emphasize healthy food nutrition and knowledge,” said Morphis.
She created birthday cake packages for busy parents to purchase. The birthday child and the kitchen staff bakes the cake, which is served in class. Morphis’ wanted to expose the children to a wide range of flavors and eliminate artificial ingredients, so she included a lemon poppy-seed Bundt cake, a banana chocolate chip cake and vegan carrot cake, all decorated using edible flowers, fruit or herbs from the garden. Morphis’ cake packages provide a range of affordable costs. The new birthday cake program fits with Little Ones’ nutrition focus and learning experience.
Okunoren-Meadows hopes that the experience at Little Ones is a good one for the Georgia State students. The students spend 60 hours over three weeks with the center, and she gives them experiences beyond the center including a day with Georgia Organics, visiting other child care programs and professional meetings.