While Way to Grow has spent the past month celebrating National Nutrition Month, our commitment to weaving education, wellness, and nutrition throughout all our programming continues every day of the year through our Growing Strong program.
Research demonstrates strategies that target young children are more effective when parents are involved in learning about and preparing healthy foods. Parents who lack knowledge about healthy foods and nutrition are less likely to make healthy food choices for their family.
According to Wilder Research’s study on Nutrition and Students’ Academic Performance, “Minnesota youth face a number of food-related concerns, such as poor nutrition, obesity, and hunger.” Additional studies show that nutritional deficiencies early in life can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, concentration, and academic performance.
Way to Grow’s Growing Strong childhood nutrition program serves low-income, at-risk Minneapolis families through a holistic model of home visiting, center-based preschools, and community-based classes and events.
We are working to foster changes in nutrition behavior among our families and to close the gap of access to healthy foods among communities of color. Barriers to good nutrition include lack of knowledge about healthy foods, lack of access to healthy foods, and lack of skills in preparing healthy food. To reduce these barriers, our Growing Strong program:
- Increases direct access to healthy foods
- Increases knowledge about healthy eating and food preparation
- Changes nutrition behavior.
Through our programs and services, our ultimate goal is to systematically change nutrition behavior in our children’s homes, our preschools, and in the community at large.
Using an evidence-based approach, Growing Strong improves childhood nutrition by increasing parents’ and children’s nutrition knowledge and ensuring direct access to healthy food to support long-term nutrition behavior changes. Additionally, the Growing Strong program is implemented through a family-centered, multi-generational approach over multiple years that allows us to weave nutrition education throughout all we do for our families and children.
During our home visits, family educators teach families about nutrition using such resources as USDA’s My Plate, Food Labels-Nutrition Facts, 10 Tips to A Great Plate, Daily Food Plans for Adults and Toddlers, and other educational materials.
Way to Grow’s Preschool Pals and P.A.L.S. children engage in hands-on nutrition games and activities and have the opportunity to hear from guest speakers. The snacks and meals we provide meet nutrition requirements and help supplement our curriculum, as well as the nutrition education their parents receive. In addition, Way to Grow partners with the University of Minnesota Extension to offer our Cooking Matters classes to families. (Learn more about this exciting initiative in a previous blog post.)
“Healthy choices and habits make for a healthy mind and overall better quality of life,” explains Megan McLaughlin, Way to Grow Program Director. “Starting with the parents allows us to build a strong foundation and instill values about nutrition that they can easily apply at home and in their everyday lives.”
Healthy kids who eat well are ready to learn—and we are working each and every day to ensure that all children have an equal opportunity to succeed in school and life!