Late summer is a time of abundance, but for many families, getting healthy food on the table is a daily challenge. WIC is a federal program that stands for Women, Infants, and Children. It provides food and nutrition education to low-income families across the country.
Nicole Levi Coston is a registered dietitian and WIC nutritionist for Henderson County, North Carolina. “We provide support and free nutrition counseling from the time a woman becomes pregnant until her child is 5 years old. So we really take the child during that pivotal time in life where you can really determine health outcomes and we guide the family through,” she says.
In Henderson County, WIC has a new program to connect families with fresh produce. They’re kicking off a Tour de Daycare project this fall. Named after the famous bicycle race Tour de France, Tour de Daycare brings nutrition education to multiple daycare centers in the county and helps them start school gardens.
Starting in September and October 2017, WIC will offer garden consultations to help daycares find an ideal spot for their garden beds. WIC will also grow seedlings like kale and lettuce so the plants are strong and healthy when it’s time for the kids to care for them. WIC uses ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to Preschool curriculum to incorporate garden lessons and healthy eating in the classroom. The program is funded in part by ASAP’s USDA Farmers Market SNAP Support grant.
Levi Coston explains how the new program will impact local children. “This is a really great opportunity to start them at a very young age, understanding where their food comes from and having a respect for that food and having a respect for our farmers and our local community is so important and that’s really what we’re trying to teach them there,” she says.
The daycare program supplements WIC’s current efforts to expose families to healthy food – like the demonstration garden right outside their building. When parents come to WIC for nutritional counseling, their children can get their hands dirty in the garden. “That’s important to get kids interested,” she says. “You can almost see this light bulb.”
“So what we do is we have the gardens and what we harvest from those gardens is paired with food donated from the Hendersonville Community Coop,” she continues. “We make a healthy recipe and we prepare a sample. So when the kids come in for their appointment, mom, dad, and kids are able to sample this healthy food. Like right now, we’ve got an abundance of tomatoes so we can do like a salsa. They can try it, they have the opportunity to take the tomatoes that we’ve picked, and then we encourage them to go out to the garden and pick with the kids and allow the kids to actually pull the fruit off the vine. That really makes a tremendous difference and it makes it really well rounded for the kids so they are able to see from beginning to end how this food arrives in their tummy.”
The goal of these programs is to encourage family meal time and increase access to fresh produce, whether the families grow it themselves or purchase from a local farmer.
“Fortunately with local farming, healthy foods are automatically wrapped into that. You know there’s really no healthier food than a fresh fruit or vegetable and we all know that the nutrient value goes down as a product sits on the shelf so if you’re able to purchase locally you’re going to naturally have a higher nutrient value in those foods,” she says.
Henderson County WIC works closely with the Mills River Farmers Market to present cooking demonstrations for families. Upcoming cooking demos will be held at the market on September 9 and October 21, 2017.
Information about how to access federal nutrition programs can be found at www.fns.usda.gov. Find resources for helping kids embrace healthy eating habits at ASAP’s Growing Minds website: www.growing-minds.org
Aired: August 28, 2017