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In San Diego, A Menu Makeover at Head Start

At the Neighborhood House Association Head Start in San Diego, California, Registered Dietitian Kristine Smith and the Neighborhood House Association Nutrition Services Chef teamed up to make meals healthier for thousands of Head Start preschoolers.

They started by switching from a ‘heat-and-serve’ style of cooking to preparing breakfasts, lunches, and snacks from scratch every day. They replaced menu items like hot dogs, frozen fish sticks, and chicken nuggets with freshly prepared foods like multi-grain bagels with flavored cream cheeses, chicken with homemade BBQ sauce, and cilantro hummus with all-natural pita chips. Plus, they incorporated more fresh vegetables and herbs that add new colors, textures, tastes, and aromas to the meals.

In an effort to serve more nutritious bread products, the Neighborhood House Association connected with a local bakery that created new recipes with wholesome ingredients. And, the bakery is helping to make sure that little ones are getting the right portion sizes by baking smaller versions of their baked goods.

With these changes, Neighborhood House Association Nutrition Services now serves meals that are healthy and taste delicious. “Children in our program have dispelled the myth that children don’t like healthy foods,” said Kristine Smith. “They are not only willing to eat meals that are packed with nutrients, but they are enjoying the nutritious foods on their plates too.” 

The Neighborhood House Association’s new menu is inspiring healthy eating beyond the classroom too.  When children go shopping with their families, they are identifying and asking for the healthy foods they eat at school like spinach salads and fresh salsas. More and more, families are requesting recipes from Neighborhood House Association Nutrition Services so that they can make healthy meals and snacks at home. 

“Neighborhood House Association has taken numerous steps to prevent childhood obesity,” said Rudolph A. Johnson, III, President and Chief Executive Officer of Neighborhood House Association.  “The cornerstone of our efforts revolves around our menu.  We are keenly aware that we have both a great opportunity and responsibility to impact the future health and habits of the children and families we serve.” 

Inspired? Encourage your child care provider to join Let’s Move! Child Care and start making healthy changes to their program. Let’s Move! Child Care offers providers free resources and tips for promoting healthy eating and physical activity.

The Neighborhood House Association brings restaurant flair to institutional cooking by incorporating vegetables that add a variety of flavors, textures, and colors to the dishes.

The Neighborhood House Association prepares meals from scratch every day. Salads with a variety of fresh vegetables like arugula, cabbage, and carrots are a favorite.