Carrots, Beans, and Peas... oh my!
The laughter and squeals grow louder as the food cart makes its way into the Tiny Diner's Club. Snack time has arrived with colorful bowls of dressings topped with lettuce, chopped carrots, green beans, and... trees.
The children in our nursing and peer modeling programs have grown accustomed to finding trees (what they call asparagus) and orange potatoes (sweet potatoes) on their plates. In early 2015, Special Kids hired our first Food Specialist, Kathleen Long, to completely develop a new food program for the children. Kathleen has taken the vision of providing healthy meals for our most fragile children and grown it into an interactive part of their day and development.
"Providing the healthiest food possible for them," said Kathleen when asked about her goal for the program. "We try to help them eat as healthy as possible, solidify healthy eating habits, and train their taste buds. The goal is to help both physically and mentally."
Kathleen is working towards her goal through planning breakfast, snacks, and lunch for the children including grains, dairy, veggies, and fruit in their daily menus. Kathleen uses the Feingold Diet program that cuts out dyes, artificial flavors and sweeteners, and harmful preservatives when choosing food. The Feingold system has seen results in behavior, learning, and health related issues in children, and our staff has already noted a difference in the behavior and attentiveness of the children we serve.
Growing Towards the Future
Starting a healthy meal program for our children is only the first step in Kathleen's plans. Kathleen and a team of other staff members have been working with All In One Recycling and their nonprofit, Waste to Wise in Murfreesboro. The local nonprofit provided a potato barrel, palette beds, and recycled hanging baskets to allow the children to grow their own vegetables. The Rutherford County Soil Conservation also donated to the program, allowing Kathleen to buy soil, garden beds, plants, and gardening equipment for the children. The garden helps the children learn about growing and preparing their own food. "They are more likely to eat it if they've grown it," said Kathleen.
Kathleen and her little friends have also incorporated a sensory garden along with the veggies. The sensory garden includes recycled bottles that serve as planters as well as pots and pans for the children to hear. When they are in the garden, the goal is to see and touch the plants, smell the herbs, taste the food, and hear the recycled wind chimes that all make up the sensory experience.
Healthy for God
The children in our peer modeling and nursing programs are learning bible verses through daily bible story time. In our food program, the children are now also learning how eating well helps their health and helps them to grow up strong. One three-year-old recently told his father, "I have to be healthy for God." From an early age, the children are being both spiritually and physically fed, especially when snack time includes 'trees.'