Starting in September, breakfast and lunch at Newark Public Schools (NPS) Head Start programs will be more than a meal. Four Head Start preschools will begin initiating family style dining, whereby students, teachers, and teacher aides will gather at small tables, serve themselves, enjoy a nutritious meal and talk about the food and the experience.
“It will be an opportunity for learning,” said Victoria Stewart, NPS Health Coordinator, and a registered dietician, who is charged with making this Head Start requirement a reality at NPS. “With family style dining, all types of skill development can come into play.” Beyond the obvious like following directions, fine motor skills, self-help skills and social skills, Stewart noted that meals also can prompt simple lessons in science, math, spelling, language development, and, of course, nutrition.
An NPS readiness goal for its Head Start program is that “children will begin to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to make nutritious food choices.” Family style dining makes conversation—and learning—about nutrition integral and natural to eating breakfast and lunch.
Implementing nutritious family-style dining in Newark’s 11 Head Start programs will not be an easy undertaking. The schools have different kitchen capacities. For example, some schools have kitchens on site; others bring food in from outside sources and may just have a prep room to assemble the meals. Stewart has spent the summer consulting and coordinating with NPS Food Service Director Tonya Riggins and her team to understand the logistics involved and partnering for successful implementation.
Working with each school, Stewart has formed a program-wide nutrition committee that will be the channel for raising, discussing and resolving issues that may arise at any school. Each school will be represented by a teacher on the committee.
With 1,000 Head Start students in Newark, the initiative has the potential to change the conversation about nutrition and health not just in the schools and also back at home.SHARE: