By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Veteran child-care provider Antoinette Davis understands what it can be like when it comes to busy parents scrambling to get to work and feed their kids at the same time.
Often, it isn't pretty.
“Providers have to stop that at the door,” she said. “They have to tell parents, ‘You can bring a bag of apples, or oranges, or some bananas.'”
Davis has immersed children in her care in making and eating nutritious foods for more than a quarter century, with help from the Child and Adult Food Care Program, a division of the Child Care Resource Network, which steps in for thousands of children across Erie County who receive two partially subsidized meals and a snack each day – provided the food is healthy.
She got so good at it, the network asked Davis to start running the food care program about seven months ago.
Federal, state and local funds feed the program across the nation as well as regionally, said Kimberly Backey, interim executive director of the Child Care Resource Network in Erie County, which also helps license child-care centers and home-care providers, and help parents looking to connect with trained and licensed care providers.
“We all know the cost can sometimes be overwhelming to eat healthy,” Backey said, “so the food program is designed to help offset some of the cost of providing healthy and nutritious meals.”
The program is based on First Lady Michelle Obama’s “My Plate” model, in which half a mealtime plate should be filled with fruits and veggies.
“That is a must,” Backey said.
The program is available to any child-care provider or center – there are no income eligibility guidelines for inclusion.
“We do have a tiering rate that was implemented in the late 1990s,” Backey said.
In the city and several other low-income pockets of Erie County, reimbursement can go up to $105 per child per month; it is about half that in better-off communities. “Wherever the government sees low income or poverty, they get the higher rate, which is Tier 1,” Backey said.
There is paperwork involved because tax dollars pay for much of the cost. The child care network has specialists who provide technical assistance and oversight.
“We might process 2,800 claim records in a given month,” Backey said. “We have great specialists...
“This program is a benefit to parents, it’s a benefit to child-care providers,” Backey added. “When parents are dropping people off at the day-care center, or a day-care provider, they are assured that their children are receiving healthy meals.”
Lawmakers, community foundations and others who support the program see it as a way to save more money in health-related costs over time.
Kids eating the wrong foods has contributed to an obesity epidemic across the country, one in which health professionals during the last 20 years have witnessed a growing number of overweight children with adult diseases that include hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
And the unhealthy nutrition problem runs even deeper, Backey said.
“It leads to depression, self-esteem issues,” she said. “Kids become less engaged in physical activities. They develop eating disorders. They have behavior and learning problems. It can stem from the wrong diet.”
The child gets 90 percent of his or her daily nutritional needs as part of the Child and Adult Food Care Program – and parents don’t need to worry about bringing food to a day-care setting.
“It’s a federal program, so all of us across the country follow the same nutritional guidelines,” Backey said.
Those guidelines call for healthy foods that include 1 percent or skim milk; whole grains; no more than one glass of juice per day; good proteins, with limits on processed meats to two times or less per week; and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
The program also encourages that children drink plenty of water, and steer clear of sugary cereals, baked goods and fried foods.
“We want to get the children to start off right at a young age,” Backey said. “We train our providers to make those meals so they can train the parents to carry on.”
The Child Care Resource Network in Erie County grew out of a community conference 30 years ago this month designed to find ways to better the lives of children in Western New York.
Parents and others can learn more about the network – and how to find a licensed day-care provider in their community – by visiting wnychildren.org.