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Healthy habits for preschool

Kids are learning to eat their vegetables as part of a healthy nutrition program by Nemours.

Kids are learning to eat their vegetables as part of a healthy nutrition program by Nemours.

Brittni Larson

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If you’d like to volunteer, or are interested in getting this program at your child-care center, email FLPrevention@nemours.org

For Marva Forbes and her family, dinner was coming home, hot oil in a pan and frying up some chicken.

“As a rule,” she said.

There was also lots of pizza, McDonald’s and chips and candy for snacks. Not much thought went behind planning meals for her family, which includes three of her children and two grandchildren.

“Our eating habits were: we just ate,” Forbes said.

That is until four years ago, when her 6-year-old grandson started going to Winter Park Day Nursery. The nursery, which offers free training from their chef on how to make healthy, affordable meals, taught Forbes and her grandchildren the wonders of eating healthy.

Adopting the Nemours program

Though the nursery has always had a healthy meal plan, a year ago they adopted a new program offered by the Nemours obesity prevention initiative. The initiative has already helped 11,000 Central Florida kids and more than 600 child-care providers. With a recent $50,000 grant from the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF), it will help 14 more providers in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.

Preschools are struggling when it comes to teaching healthy habits, said Dr. Lloyd Werk, director of Nemours’ Florida Prevention Initiative.

“There’s a knowledge gap, and we can help fill it,” he said. “This is where we can make a difference.”

They hope to saturate the entire Winter Park area with their program.

Nemours will have volunteers and paid staff train the child-care providers on two programs: Nemours Healthy Habits for Life and the Nemours plan for a healthy lifestyle: 5-2-1 Almost None. Healthy Habits teaches preschool children about “sometimes” and “anytime” food, eating the colors of the rainbow and including movement in all play. Almost None focuses on more exercise, reducing TV and computer time, making nutrition interesting and limiting sugary drinks.

“We’re trying to build a culture of wellness,” Werk said. “Many of our lifelong habits are developed in this time period.”

WPHF President Patricia Maddox agreed and said this program will help expand their current efforts, which include teaching public school children healthy habits, to an even younger group.

“The earlier habits are engrained in our lives … the better chance we have to keep them,” Maddox said.

Changes to the nursery

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Shirley Shankle prepares a snack for preschoolers at the WInter Park Day School.

Since implementing Nemours’ program, the Winter Park Day Nursery has most changed their movement policy. Now, they include movement at least two to three more times than they did before. There isn’t any sitting around and waiting to start activities there. Kids are encouraged to play a slow-motion game, copy the leader and act like animals. They hop and skip to their next activity. It’s all about integrating movement into parts of the day they never thought they would.

And it’s the kids’ favorite part of the day — moving and playing is natural for them, unlike sitting quietly, Nursery Director Ali DeMaria said.

Games to teach nutrition include learning “sometimes” and “anytime” foods. Pizza pops up, and the children crouch down for “sometimes,” she shows cereal with fruit so they hop up and down from the energy they would get from that “anytime” food.

Next, they roll dice to see what movement they’ll do and how many times they’ll do it. The children obviously love it, excitedly hopping around, dancing and wiggling.

DeMaria loves that the teachers have a new resource to teach children about nutrition, and the children are really grasping the concepts.

“They know more about what they’re given,” she said.

And while the nursery has always had healthy meals, chef Shirley Shankle has made the change from canned to fresh fruit. She exposes the children to vegetables every day, and they are encouraged to try new things. She likes making eating broccoli a game — dinosaurs eating trees. Parents tell her that their children know what they’re eating and request “anytime” foods. Shankle said she loves getting the kids to try new things, and, eventually, like them.

“I feel that this is their most impressionable age,” she said.

Changes at home

Forbes sees those habits growing stronger at home, though it wasn’t easy at first. Her children now ask for carrots instead of candy, she bakes everything and her microwave has gotten dusty. Her picky family eats asparagus, which Forbes never imagined in a million years. They spend lots of time walking and outside, and television and computer time is stopped at 30 minutes each from the ding of an egg timer. They feel healthy.

“It’s funny because I never thought I could,” she said. “Everything has changed.”