Snack time at a Grovetown child care center is a little juicier these days.
There’s a lot more fresh fruit offered to children at the Learning, Laughter and Love Child Enrichment Center on Wrightsboro Road, thanks to a state grant.
The one-year Caregivers Promoting Healthy Habits grant, administered by the state Department of Early Care and Learning, aims to teach children to eat healthier and be more physically active.
“We’ve redesigned our snacks and that’s a huge thing,” Director Deena Youngblood said.
At snack time on Wednesday, pre-K pupil Grant Burpee, 5, chose a handful of purple grapes.
“All fruits and vegetables are good for you,” Grant told his friends as he popped grapes into his mouth.
The children talked about what their favorite fruits were as they munched on melon, strawberries, oranges and kiwi.
After they finished, the only things left on the table were orange rinds and empty water glasses.
“They love fresh fruit,” pre-K teacher Nancy Cole said.
A few times a week, Youngblood said the traditional cracker-type snack is replaced with fresh fruit. They’ve also cut serving sugary fruit juice back to twice a week in an effort to offer healthier choices to the children.
“They have a variety and they can choose what they want,” Youngblood said. “When they make the choices, they are more likely to eat it and stay with it.”
The $3,000 grant, which Youngblood started implementing March 1, also allowed her to contract a dietician to help redesign the lunch menus to make them healthier, but still appetizing for the children.
As a special treat, and an experiment, Youngblood said she bought a small tiki bar to make fruit smoothies.
“We’re going to set up a juice bar once a week,” Youngblood said. “We’ll have a tray of fruits. They’ll pick it and we’ll blend it.”
The smoothies, made with the fruit and yogurt, is a fun way to let the children try new fruits.
In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, Youngblood is helping her pupils grow them. With the help of Evans High School horticulture students, the children will be tending to a 20-by-40 foot garden plot planted with a variety of edibles, including tomatoes, watermelon, squash, cucumbers and zucchini.
“We’ve got kid-sized hoes, kid-sized wheelbarrows,” Youngblood said. “They will actually be doing all the planting.”
They’ll plant tomatoes and other vegetables inside a few overturned tires for the little ones, who might otherwise tromp on their plants.
The garden also provides an outdoor classroom to learn about the sun and rain and how they affect the plants.
“We also think that making this garden, if (the children) grow the fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to eat it,” Youngblood said. “I’m hoping that through this process, they learn to love growing food and be willing to try new foods and things like that.”
The children also are enjoying a little more physical activity. Twice a week, a fitness coordinator leads children in Zumba, yoga, Pilates and Ceroc, a fusion of Salsa and Jive dances, Youngblood said.
“What we want to teach them is you don’t have to walk,” Youngblood said. “You don’t have to jog. You don’t have to do Pilates. You don’t have to do aerobics. But you do need to pick something.”
Youngblood said she just hopes the activities help children learn to make better food choices and be physically active. Those good habits, she said, can affect the child’s health and fitness for a lifetime.