With child obesity becoming more prevalent among small children, the directors at Conway’s Cradle Care have embarked on a mission to instill healthy eating habits in the children they care for and their parents with some basic nutritional education. 

Diana Byrd, executive director, said the cooking classes were interactive for the children and parents alike.

"We are very excited to be able to incorporate the idea of healthy eating and nutrition to the kids and their families," she said. "We held cooking demonstrations for the kids where we blended fresh fruit to make smoothies for them to drink. With supervision, the kids were able to cut the fruit into pieces and helped put the ingredients into the blender and watched in amazement when we turned the blenders on."

Byrd said the goal of the classes is to teach the children from an early age that there are nutritious options when they are choosing snacks and that they taste good. The goal for their parents is somewhat similar.

"The foremost goal of Cradle Care is to improve the health and well-being of our children," Byrd said. "Healthier food alternatives contribute to better health, well child check-ups and an improved chance of reaching growth and developmental milestones. Teen and expectant parents gain a better understanding of the importance of good nutrition for their child and the lifelong benefits for their children."

Byrd said for most parents of children that are cared for by the Cradle Care staff, dealing with a child while they finish high school is enough of a challenge, which is why teaching the basics of health and nutrition is something she and the other directors are excited to do.

The group is able to offer these classes because of grant funding they received from the Community Foundation of Faulkner County and the Arkansas Community Foundation in partnership with the Blue and You Foundation for a healthier Arkansas.

In addition to healthy foods and snacks, educational materials on nutrition were purchased and placed in the classrooms and made available to teen parents and their children.

A "cooking with young children" training class attended by childcare staff was incorporated into the toddler classroom activities and four cooking classes were provided for the toddlers with food and materials purchased from the grants. 

Byrd said the need for the grant funding is based on several factors.

"Over the past five years, researchers, nutritionists and politicians have been calling attention to the growing national crisis of childhood obesity," she said. "This generation of children is frequently referred to as the ‘super size’ generation. Over the last thirty years, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for children age two to five. This is an age group that we see on a daily basis. In addition, we were seeing young parents increasingly bring poor food choices for their child. They never brought fresh fruits or vegetables and often relied on processed foods and snack items with no nutritional value. This funding will help us teach both the children and their parents that healthy food can taste good as well as be good for you."

For more information on the Conway Cradle Care program, e-mail conwaycradlecare@yahoo.com or call (501) 730-0017.

(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at candie.beck@thecabin.net)