Feel free to read this blog post in the voice of your mother!

The vitamins and minerals we get from food affect our bodies, inside and out. Protein-rich foods like lean meats, beans, or leafy greens build healthy muscles. Antioxidants from fruits fight diseases. And, your mom was right, cooked carrots help your eyesight! Unfortunately, the high cost of eating healthy is just out of reach for many in our community. Imagine if you live in a food desert, live on a fixed income, or don’t have the knowledge to make healthy food choices.

Luckily, ESNG has great nutrition specialists who work with our early education and care program. Teedra Jones works with our six Fulton County centers to ensure children receive nutritious meals every day. Not only does she schedule the food that the children will eat for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, she also educates children and their families on how to buy, store, and cook healthy foods on a budget.

At each meal, Teedra makes sure that children have the recommended amount of fruits, vegetables, protein, and grains. She also has to make sure kids want to eat them. We’ve had our fair share of picky eaters, too! Her goal is to shape the taste buds of the young children we serve. The first three years of a child’s life are the best opportunity to instill life-long eating habits.

At ESNG, we don’t just serve the needs of the child; we also focus on his/her family. To that end, Teedra and her team work to make sure parents know how to prepare healthy foods while on a budget. During a parent training, she showed families how to shop for food, make it, and encourage healthy eating habits at home. Having that one-on-one time with parents is vital.

ESNG: What is the biggest challenge for low-income families or families with children with disabilities regarding nutrition?

Teedra: The biggest challenge for me is that a lot of low-income families have very limited resources and lack of access to healthy, and affordable foods. Low-income neighborhoods frequently lack full-service grocery stores and farmers’ markets where residents can buy a variety of high-quality fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Instead, residents – especially those without reliable transportation – may be limited to shopping at small neighborhood convenience and corner stores, where fresh produce and low-fat items are limited, if available at all. Therefore, households with limited resources to buy enough food often try to stretch their food budgets by purchasing cheap, energy-dense foods that are filling – that is, they attempt to maximize their calories per dollar to stave off hunger.

ESNG: What are some easy ways parents can adopt healthy eating habits at home?

Teedra: 1. Enjoy meals together. When everyone sits down together to eat, there’s less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much.

2. Get kids involved in cooking and planning meals. Everyone develops good eating habits together and the quality time with the family will be an added bonus.

3. Eating healthier at home starts with the ingredients you use. Many favorite recipes can be made healthier by substituting ingredients.

4. When you use oils for cooking, baking or in dressings or spreads, choose a healthier oil which includes canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, soybean and sunflower oils.

5. Limit added sugars to your family’s diet. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugars for most of us, so reduce or cut out soda, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit drinks as well as enhanced waters, sweetened teas, and sugary coffee drinks. Drink more plain water instead.

6. Try to reduce the amount of sodium you eat. If using packaged foods, compare food labels, and choose the product with the least amount of sodium. Use herbs and spices to add flavor when cooking, instead of salt.

7. Eat more vegetables and fruits, whether fresh, frozen, dried or canned. Add them to dishes your family already loves and use them as healthier sides, snacks and desserts. If you choose canned, watch for added sodium and sugars.

ESNG: What do you hope children learn about nutrition while they are under our care?

Teedra: I hope that the children in our program will learn that by them eating healthy they will feel good about themselves, stay at or reach a healthy weight, and have lots of energy to come to school and play. Therefore, this will teach them how to control their food portions and to pick healthier foods throughout their lives in which it will help them to maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults.

At each center, we have a nutrition tech on staff. Day in and day out, they prepare the food our children eat. With food allergies and intolerances, it’s vital that they know which child cannot eat certain foods. Imagine making breakfast, lunch, and snacks for over 150 children with various limitations. It’s a tough, but rewarding job! Especially when the children love the nutritious and delicious food they receive.

We gave some tips on how to incorporate healthy eating in September’s blog post.

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