The Youth and Family Empowerment (YFE) division of Seattle Human Services and PSFN have partnered once again to help connect healthy foods to our community. Last week we sponsored two training sessions for cooks at child care centers. Once again, Leika Suzumura of Rainier Valley Eats and Community Kitchens NW led wonderful training sessions addressing the advantages of purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables locally, and of cooking and eating as a community. Natalie Thomson of YFE organized the trainings and PSFN’s Karen Mauden coordinated the produce sourcing and distribution for the training with PSFN member farms.
The basic idea for the training programs is that food is picked and packed at a local farm and is delivered fresh from that farm to each childcare meal site. Because the produce is picked at the height of ripeness, and the intervening time between harvest and delivery is so short, Seattle’s children who attend the participating child care programs receive their fresh fruits and veggies when they are most nutritive. Served so close to pick time, the produce is also at the height of its flavor, color, and has maximum freshness and crunch –– all added benefits that keep the kids asking for more. Trying such fresh foods at an early age helps develop a taste for fresh flavors and the natural sweetness of fresh foods among youngsters.
Nutritious food isn’t nutritious until it’s eaten, though, and the first step to getting yummy, fresh foods into children’s bellies is getting the cooks at childcare sites involved, and that’s what these training sessions are all about. To set the program up for success, we help train the site cooks to make tasty meals the children will want to try and will enjoy.
The Community Day School Association’s nine child care sites, and Seattle Community Centers’ fifteen sites were all able to attend training sessions tailored to their unique needs. Some of these sites have been serving local produce since October 2011 as part of the Farm to Table (F2T) Project. Others are brand new to F2T and purchasing directly from local farms. Most sites participating in the F2T project at this point receive their produce in the form of a CSA box from a local farm. While the CSA model offers the benefit of being organic, grown & sourced locally, it also presents the challenge of using some vegetables that will be new foods to the children –– foods we call “stretch” foods (“stretch” meaning that we are encouraging and challenging the children and cooks to taste and experiment with some foods that are unfamiliar to them). Developing recipes that artfully incorporate these new products is a key step in encouraging children to try new things.
After Leika’s presentation and some discussion it was time to get our hands dirty! It was off to the kitchen to create “Hero Salad” (purple cabbage, green kale, orange carrots); English Muffin Pizzas (kale, carrots, pizza sauce & mozzarella); roasted root vegetables (celeriac, sunchokes, sweet potatoes & parsnips dusted with rosemary, thyme & parsley); and PCC’s “Health Secret Cookies” (pumpkin seeds and oatmeal help create a better-for-you chocolate chip cookie). What a menu! Everyone shared ideas about how to adapt existing recipes to use more fresh local produce featuring the flavors of the season.
Just as it’s considered best practices for child care providers to include children in the food prep and cooking process, and to sit down and share meals with them, the result of these training sessions was a community coming together and sharing the experience of cooking and eating together. At the end of the day, there were many happy faces knowing why serving local, seasonal produce is a best practice for child care, and also that it’s totally doable!