Raising The (Nutrition) Bar

Local child development center embraces healthy eating movement.

Madison can tell you about her favorite food: chicken nuggets. But she has another favorite these days: Hearty bean soup. Snoopeeland Child Development Center in St. Helens has embarked upon a “Best Practices Nutrition Initiative” to elevate the nutritional content and variety of the foods that are served. While the center has always followed the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program standards, Director DeAnn Marble is determined to move beyond the minimum requirements.

“We are using the USDA standards as a springboard for our Best Practices Initiative,” said Marble. A USDA-approved meal can consist of chicken nuggets, tater tots, corn, and buttered bread. While menus such as this can be quick and inexpensive, they do not represent best practice for nutritive value. Adding more and better foods requires additional expense as well as more preparation. “Our facility is fortunate because we have a commercial kitchen and a staff person dedicated solely to cooking. This enables us to provide a hot cooked lunch on site daily.”
Staff member Chef Tiffany Jacques, who also works weekends for "Wild Current" catering, prepares dozens of lunches and snacks daily. She has developed a loyal following for her home-style foods.

A lot of the meals the kids enjoy the most are easily changed to make them more nutritious. Meals include extra vegetables added to most main dishes, substitutes lean ground turkey for hamburger, promotes healthy eating by offering new vegetables on a regular basis, and crafts each menu to provide a variety of colors and textures. Less nutritious choices such as French fries or corn dogs are kept to a minimum. Fresh fruits are served as an alternative to fruit juice, and children are offered water frequently.

Busy parents can face additional stress trying to provide the best possible nutrition for their children in the face of media coverage of rising obesity rates and health problems caused by poor eating habits. Snoopeeland’s goal is to partner with those parents by serving a variety of nutrient-dense foods for snacks and lunches. “We don’t want parents to feel guilty for going to the drive-thru on a hectic evening,” said Marble. By considering snacks as a “mini meal” rather than a “treat”, full-time attendees at Snoopeeland receive a minimum of four servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

In addition to changes in the kitchen, the center’s “Seed To Table Initiative” provides an opportunity for the children to grow their own vegetables to eat. Best Practices seeks to make nutrition fun, with various curriculum enhancements like build-your-own snacks, farm field trips, etc.

Changes are coming to the USDA guidelines for the National School Lunch Program, and recommendations related to calories, sodium, fat content, and overall variety are part of the new rules. Snoopeeland CDC is stepping out ahead of these changes to affect children’s health at the earliest possible stages.

Snoopeeland has been in operation since 1972. During that time, many changes have come to certification requirements and standards. “Registered, Certified Centers are held to a higher standard than family day care homes, camps, or unregistered facilities,” said Marble. “It’s important for us to stay current on the latest developments, and we have regular inspections that cover the cleanliness and safety of the facility; staff education, background, and continuing training; curriculum and daily routine; and of course, our nutrition program.” It is Snoopeeland’s goal to meet or exceed all certification requirements.
For more information on the latest USDA nutrition guidelines, visit