Growing happy, growing healthy

Darsetta Wood, center cook at KinderCare in Blue Springs, Mo.

Darsetta Wood, center cook at KinderCare in Blue Springs, Mo.

At KinderCare Education, we know that growth starts from the inside out. Having a healthy body means having a healthy mind and we want to nourish and fuel the children in our care to learn and grow. That’s why, over the next few weeks, we’re sharing stories about the nutrition improvements we’ve made and celebrating the extraordinary centers and sites who are taking our commitment to do what’s right for the children in our care to the next level.

Darsetta Wood was raised to respect food and where it comes from. The youngest of 15 children, Wood, her sisters and her mother tended a family garden, made preserves, and cooked family meals every day. For Wood, food and togetherness go hand-in-hand—and it is that philosophy that makes the food at her KinderCare center in Blue Springs, Mo., stand out.

“Food is essential to our lives,” she said. “When you’re eating, you feel good. When you’re with the people you love, what better way to connect than over a good meal?”

Wood has been cooking her whole life, but became a child care cook at the age of 19. When she moved from Kansas to Missouri, she started at Woods Chapel KinderCare, and has been the cook there for 11 years. Wood shares her upbringing with the children at her center by growing fresh fruits and veggies, and cooking delicious and healthy meals.

“There is no better way to teach a child healthy eating than through a garden,” said Wood. “It gives them a clear understanding of where food comes from. When kids plant, water, and take care of something, they feel like they made it.”

Children from all age groups are responsible for watering plants, weeding and cleaning the garden, and harvesting fruits and vegetables when they’re ready. The garden is home to green beans, corn, okra, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, and more. The twos classroom just started germinating banana pepper seeds.

Wood cares deeply about the nutrients that come from cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s why KinderCare Education’s nutrition team tapped her to sit on the Nutrition Advisory Board.

“Darsetta is an amazing cook who is very passionate about feeding kids healthy and tasty food,” said Courtney Hines,

Wood's friends tending their garden in Blue Springs, Mo.

Wood’s friends tending their garden in Blue Springs, Mo.

KinderCare Education’s registered dietician. “She recognizes the importance of introducing kids to healthy foods and helping them develop healthy eating habits from an early age.”

One of Wood’s duties as an advisory board member is to test new recipes.

“I’m proud to act as a test kitchen,” she said. “Whenever I try a new recipe I sit with my friends at lunch and encourage them to try it—I’ll say things like ‘the Hulk is strong because he eats broccoli!’”

The newest addition to her menu (and now a favorite meal at the center) is the Tuscan Salad. The recipe calls for zucchini, tomatoes, and green peppers tossed with pasta, chicken, and Italian dressing. To add her own personal touch, Wood supplements the dish with onion and other fresh veggies from the center’s garden. And, to make sure children from all age groups enjoy the recipe, she sautés the zucchini and onion to make them soft and warm.

“Children have to have variety. How else will their little taste buds grow?” said Wood. “I’ve loved making the Tuscan Salad, and my friends have loved eating it.”

Though planting, nurturing fruits and vegetables, and cooking take time, Wood wouldn’t have her food program any other way.

Wood uses fresh ingredients from her center's garden in the meals she prepares.

Wood uses fresh ingredients from her center’s garden in the meals she prepares.

“I know people say that they don’t use fresh ingredients because of time constraints—slicing up a cantaloupe takes time,” she said. “But I say ‘make it work.’ Think of the kids, think of their health, and think of the benefit that fresh foods have for them.”

And to Wood, the time that she takes to grow and prepare food is a gift she loves to give. The time the children at her center spend with her gardening, cooking, and eating together is her gift in return.

“Good food doesn’t just please your stomach, it pleases your body and your mind,” she said. “Food is about coming together, having that time together, and creating something truly wonderful.”

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