Our mealtimes are a part of our curriculum at Estes Children’s Cottage, and we enjoy sharing food experiences together. Our program philosophy is inspired by the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and we draw inspiration from their view on food and eating together.
According to the Reggio Children book, The Languages of Food:
Recipes, Experiences, Thoughts, “special care in offering tastes, in the
food and attractive composition of the dish, in the aesthetics of table
setting, the pleasure of sharing lunch with friends, and the opportunity to
encounter the kitchen as a multisensory laboratory are important strategies for
creating a welcoming atmosphere for all and highlighting the individual in the
They view the kitchen in each school as “a place of life and of
possible relationships, a vital space inhabited on a daily basis by adults and
children, a space for thinking and research and learning.”
During the past year, we have explored expanding the children’s involvement with our mealtimes by adding a new ritual of allowing the daily table-setter to design a unique centerpiece for lunchtime. The children now gather items and request that they are used as a centerpiece.
Based on the children’s interest, we’ve created
opportunities for helping that include bringing breakfast from the kitchen,
putting away clean dishes in the morning and removing dishes from the table
after lunch. The older children developed a growing interest in talking about
our menu, the food offered and the kitchen where our food is prepared.
Since we often reference Robert when talking about how some of the dishes we have are prepared, the children wanted to know more about Robert, the manager and chef at the Chapel Hill kitchen for Child Care Services Association’s Meal Services Program. They had many questions for him, including what he looked like and his favorite foods to prepare and eat. We gathered the children’s questions and mailed a letter to Robert. He sent back his responses, complete with a picture attached.
We wanted to nurture the children’s interest in the kitchen and grow the relationship. Our oldest group of children was then able to travel by town bus on a field trip to see the kitchen in action. We were accompanied by a couple of the children’s parents as well.
They observed the food preparation process, saw
some of the tools used in the kitchen and even taste-tested a new recipe the
kitchen staff had prepared for the occasion. They now have a visual of the
kitchen, the staff and a lot of what goes into making our meals, as well as
meeting and forming relationships with the kitchen and staff.
After the bus ride back to the Cottage they were able to share “insider information” with the other children about what they had observed and seen.
Written by Colleen Burns, Summer
2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill
Feuer is a mother of two with her younger son, Sam, in child care in Chapel
Hill. As any mother of a four-year-old would, Rachel expects her son to talk
about the toys he played with or the new friends he made that day at his child
care center. But one of his comments stands out among the rest.
raves about the food served at his child care center. “My son has asked me many
times to make Robert’s soup or Robert’s salad dressing or Robert’s chicken or
Robert’s greens,” Rachel says. “He has asked me many times why we can’t just
have Robert’s food at home, and was disappointed to find out that we can’t just
order it. Recently, he has started asking for Robert’s recipes daily, and
wondering why Robert doesn’t have a cookbook.”
Robert isn’t a cook at Sam’s child care center, though. Robert Cates has been a manager of the Meal Services program at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for 20 years. He manages the kitchen in Orange County at the University United Methodist Church in downtown Chapel Hill and generates menus for all three of CCSA’s Meal Services kitchens. He also works closely with CCSA’s Meal Services program senior manager, Lisa Menna, who manages all three kitchens, to ensure meals meet the nutritional needs of the children by collaborating with dietitians and nutritionists as well as sourcing meat, produce and other products from local farmers.
What is the CCSA Meal Services?
operation for almost 30 years, CCSA’s Meal Services program began out of the
kitchen at the University United Methodist Church in Orange County. It expanded
with the construction of the Jim and Carolyn Hunt Child Care Resource Center in
Durham County, and in 2017-18’s fiscal year, the program served 1,300 children
daily in 24 centers.
Meal Services program provides two nutritious meals plus one nutritious snack per day to children
enrolled in participating child care centers in Durham, Orange and Wake County.
These scratch-made meals meet or exceed all USDA requirements for child
care and are compliant with the Child and Adult
Care Food Program (CACFP). CCSA serves as a food sponsor for CACFP, a federal program that sets standards for
nutritious meals for children ages birth-12 years, and subsidizes the cost of
food for child care programs, targeting children whose families qualify for
free and reduced lunch.
says, “CCSA makes it possible for smaller child care settings to provide
excellent food for kids and teachers. At the small [child care center] my son
attends, there is no space or budget to hire someone to cook meals.” This is
the case for many child care centers.
purchasing food in bulk, the Meal Services program allows child care centers to
purchase nutritional meals and snacks at cost, without having to maintain
expensive kitchens. It also allows directors to focus more of their attention
on quality child care instead of on shopping, menu planning and cooking.
also an educational process,” says Robert. Trying new foods can be an
adjustment for some children, “but the child care centers we’ve been serving
for a long time…know how to ease kids into it and help them to appreciate the
variety and appreciate things that they’ve never seen before,” Robert
order to be eligible for Meal Services, child care centers must have at least 3
stars or earn at least a 3-star rating within one year of implementing Meal
Services, and participating centers are also required to enroll in the USDA’s
Child and Adult Care Food Program. Meals also must be served family style at
the table as meals are not individually packaged, so that children can eat
together in a positive setting.
Why is the CCSA Meal Services
Many families in North Carolina face
the dual challenge of food insecurity and early childhood obesity. Child care
centers play a central role in the development of early eating habits. On
average, children receive more than 50 percent of their daily caloric intake at
child care. Therefore, the importance of these
meals cannot be understated. Nutrition and quality must be prioritized.
is a psychologist who has worked with many clients who have struggled with
healthy eating. “Early childhood is the time when children are developing
lifelong eating habits. If they become accustomed to eating lots of
preparations of healthy vegetables, proteins, legumes and whole grains, they
will be at an advantage for their entire life,” says Rachel.
Services focuses on creating meals that are made using local products and
in-season fruits and vegetables.
says, “We buy from Farmer Foodshare, which is a local food hub in Durham, and
they source from all over North Carolina. They get apples from the mountains
and produce from down east. And then we also source…from farmers in Orange,
Durham and Chatham counties.”
program ensures children have balanced menus that include one poultry, one
beef, one seafood and two vegetarian lunches per week.
have so many items on our [menu] list…There is quite a bit of variety and it
always depends on…what’s available seasonally…We follow the meal patterns
of the child care center food programs, and we also meet with nutritionists to
make sure we are going above and beyond in terms of the nutritional needs for
the children,” Robert shared.
newsletters let families learn more about what their child is eating and
learning about in the child care setting. They even include tips and recipes so
that parents like Rachel can try to incorporate these healthy foods at home.
Rachel says, “CCSA strikes a healthy balance of wholesome food that (according
to my kids) tastes excellent.”
shared, “We’re looking to hopefully expand what we’re doing into Chatham
County. There are groups working around the state to replicate our model in
rural areas around North Carolina. So, it’s a slow process, but people think
what we’re doing is worth trying to duplicate in other areas.”