At the end of July Carly Dunn, Knowledge Universe’s supervisor of food standard, quality, and nutrition, visited Washington, D.C., to appeal to congressional officials about healthy eating and physical activity in early childhood education. As the largest private provider of child care in the country, KU is a trusted resource on Capitol Hill, specifically for the upcoming reauthorization of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (remember when Dr. Elanna Yalow testified on the Hill?).
“I talked about how I feed 160,000 kids a day in our 2,000 centers across 39 states,” said Carly. “And that our a commitment to Partnership for a Healthier America means that we believe education should include topics of food, health, and wellness.”
Carly shared with other panelists what sets KU apart from other early childhood food programs: providing water throughout the day, our commitment to taking learning outdoors, using only 100% juice in our centers, and providing fruits and veggies at every meal and snack.
“I shared commitments that I want to make in the future to ensuring we are meeting our goals,” said Carly. “Parents need to know that learning and food are related. When [children] eat well, they learn. If kids don’t eat well, they’re not going to have energy to learn or play.”
Other panelists shared their experiences providing food to early childhood education programs with as few as five centers, or shared their research on the subject.
“I talked about some of the challenges we face as a large organization,” said Carly. “Sometimes products don’t get to distribution as fast as I’d like them to; sometimes it takes a while for children to accept new foods.”
One activity that can help children accept new foods faster is family style dining, which takes place in all KU centers.
“When kids serve themselves, they’re less likely to be picky and more likely to take the correct portion,” said Carly. “If the teacher eats something, so will a child. And if they see other children eating something, they’re more likely to eat it too.”
The aim of Carly’s panel was to reinforce to officials that providing funding for early childhood food programs is imperative. At KU, early childhood education isn’t focused on any one thing, but on the child as a whole.
Carly emphasized KU’s Grow Happy blog, which launched in conjunction with our PHA commitment. The blog provides recipe and activity ideas for teachers and parents, and offers tips and tricks for helping picky eaters. Carly is committed to providing KU children with clean, healthy food that they might not otherwise be exposed to at home.
“Someone asked me what type of chicken nugget I have on my menu,” she said. “I don’t have one. I know they’re getting that at home. Instead I have hummus, quinoa, and salmon burgers.”
Though Carly said the experience felt like “once in a lifetime,” the panel organizers said they would love to work with her again.
“It’s so important that our kids eat well while we have them [in our centers],” said Carly. “I had a phenomenal experience.”