Through learning about healthy foods, both childcare providers and children grow

About 12 million children under the age of 5 receive care outside of the home, Child Care Aware, reported in 2019. This has many implications, but one area that many people overlook is what children are eating and drinking while in childcare. Healthy habits start young and can make a pivotal impact on a child’s future.

One approach to changing how childcare providers feed the children is through incorporating Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) lessons and practices. Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) provides resources, like recipes and gardening activities, and technical assistance to childcare sites. Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the CRFS supported a pilot program to help ECE providers obtain locally grown food from a variety of sources, as well as to encourage providers to assess their experience in the program." 

Go NAPSACC is changing the game

Mary Neumaier, dietitian and program specialist with the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan based in Detroit, has worked at the National Kidney Foundation for the past 11 years on community programs focusing on nutrition, mainly on the early childhood program Go NAPSACC.

A child explores the garden at House of Joy Childcare in Detroit.

“Go NAPSACC is a program for childcare providers,” Neumaier explains. “It is a policy system and environmental change program where they complete modules and set goals to make action plans for their childcare. I am a Go NAPSACC consultant and provide technical assistance to providers in Michigan. Any provider in the state of Michigan can use the Go NAPSACC platform.”

‘The Detroit Ladies’

That’s how Neumaier met “The Detroit Ladies,” a group of five to seven (sometimes more) early childhood providers who Neumaier connected with through MSU’s ECE Procurement Pilot and Go NAPSACC.  

“We started a collaborative with them in 2020 right before COVID,” Neumaier says. “The group participates in Go NAPSACC, and we have monthly meetings covering different areas of interest. 

“They are a wonderful group of mainly home providers who have really embraced the policy system and environmental change components of Go NAPSACC and continually set goals and make changes that benefit their home- or center-based childcare sites.”

Neumaier gives the group’s technical assistance with Go NAPSACC and helps them set and reach goals. 
Lorna Parks, owner of House of Joy Childcare in Detroit, tours the Keep Growing Detroit Garden.
“While they don’t necessarily need me, I help keep them on track so they can worry about the more important aspects of running a childcare,” Neumaier says. “I educate them on their topics of choice, and if they have a topic that I am not an expert on, I get someone to come and speak to them. I am here for whatever they need, really, and if I can’t help them, I find someone who can.”

One of those Detroit Ladies is Lorna Parks, owner of House of Joy Childcare in Detroit. 

“We all started with Go NAPSACC and branched off with Mary’s assistance,” Parks explains. “She told us about the resources and we jumped on the bandwagon. She shared other activities with us and we signed up.”

Some of those resources include go-at-your-own-pace educational sessions on Go NAPSACC’s website on such topics as child nutrition, breastfeeding and infant feeding, oral health, infant and child physical activity, outdoor play and learning, and screen time. 

“We got to do a virtual shopping trip at the supermarket to learn how to read the labels,” Parks says. “This helped me revise my handbook and helped with parent involvement because parents are able to access the virtual shopping tour, too.” 

Learning and growing for their kids

While Parks has been licensed and in operation since 1999, she is always open to learning new ideas and growing. 

“I wanted to increase my classroom’s activity level outside, so Mary got me connected with people who gave me equipment to round out my classroom, from posters to post around the childcare site, to play equipment for inside and outside, to books about gardens, to safety equipment for scooters and bikes.” 
The House of Joy Childcare in Detroit puts emphasis on fresh produce.
Parks, cares for seven children and provides respite care for some, has been able to give her kids experiences they never would have gotten otherwise.

“Grants were given [through the MSU Farm to ECE Procurement Pilot] and I was able to get a greenhouse and freezer to extend food beyond the season,” Parks says. “I get recipe suggestions, extra veggies to increase taste testing for my Taste Testing Tuesday and Fun with Foods Friday, and if I can’t pick it up, they help me get fresh things by delivering. 

“The grants were very helpful; when you’re a micro business, the cost of living is going up, and you’re working with children at risk, we want to tailor things to those kids, and those grants were absolutely wonderful.”

What’s been just as helpful to Parks is the connection with the other care providers. 

“Having the support, having another opinion or way to do something, especially when everything is always just on me — it’s been good to have a fresh idea or another way of thinking or doing something,” Parks shares. “Someone else may have a solution that you never would have thought about. We know it’s important to take care of ourselves, so we also meet outside of work — we go to comedy shows, we break bread together, we refer children to each other — we support each other however we can.”

Neumaier echoes that sentiment.

“We really have become a family of sorts,” she agrees. “The trust and support are there, and we appreciate each other and what everyone brings to the group. This coming year, I am hoping to have the providers do some education sessions with each other on things that they feel they are experts with. They love to talk and learn from each other.”

What the future holds

Neumaier’s goal for the next year is to continue offering assistance to the current providers and recruiting more providers to work with, in addition to spreading the word about Go NAPSACC.

Parks’ goal is to continue growing, thriving, and being grateful. 

“[Childcare] is an extension of the home, and we’re partners in kids’ development,” she says. “We want them happy and in the moment and thriving. My heart is still smiling when I think about all that I have done. It wouldn’t have happened as soon if the grants hadn’t been available.”

Kelsey Sanders is a freelance writer and editor based in Norton Shores. When she's not working with words on paper, she owns and operates the wellness company, ThriveWell, which focuses on individuals' and organizations' health, particularly small daily habit changes that create long-term wellness. Or, she's taking pictures of her sleeping one-eyed rescue dog.

Photos courtesy of Lorna Parks.

This story is part of a series that explores access, equity, and sustainability through Good Food in Michigan’s thriving food economy. This work is made possible by Michigan Good Food and is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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