Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' Promotes Gardening Programs for Preschoolers

By Elizabeth Harrington | September 17, 2012 | 5:36pm EDT

First lady Michelle Obama joins children on stage during a Let’s Move event in Iowa in February 2012. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign is now targeting toddlers in its latest attempt to change the eating habits of children, promoting “Farm to Preschool” programs with the goal of having kids “teach their parents” about gardening.

“Let’s Move! Child Care” held an interactive conference webinar last week, highlighting various programs throughout the country as a guide for schools to start their own gardens for kids as early as 18-months-old.

“[An] important principle of Farm to Preschool is that there is a focus on hands-on, interactive activities that educate kids about food and encourage positive attitudes towards healthy food,” said Diane Harris, a Health Scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Kim Nall, director of the Colusa Indian Community Council, which is implementing the goals of Let’s Move! Child Care, said she was motivated by early childhood obesity and diabetes among Native American communities.

“We wanted to be a part of change,” she said. “So we wanted to start with our youngest children from the very start, we wanted to help keep our children healthy at the very earliest level, which is--we start at 18 months here.”

“Our youngest toddlers even go into the garden and plant and harvest and weed,” Nall said. She explained that her center has formed a Let’s Move! committee, and that their children take nature walks “on a weekly basis, even when it’s cold outside.”

Involving families -- a theme reiterated throughout the conference -- is an important goal, Nall said, explaining that parents were invited on a “really healthy picnic.”

“And then also we invite our families to garden with us,” she said, “including them in the entire process and letting them be a part of what we’re trying to do with their children.”

“The benefit for the families is learning about healthy foods from their kids,” Nall said.

“Our kids teach their parents about what we’re doing here. Being a part of the nutrition education, using fresh foods in meals at home and talking about healthy food choices. Our children actually really embrace it and talk about it with their families.”

Kristine Smith, a registered dietician who serves as the director of nutrition services at the Neighborhood House Association in San Diego, Calif., echoed the goal of educating parents when detailing her program’s menu, which includes “Salmon Tacos with Jalisco,” “Rotini alla Bolognese,” and “Vegetarian Black Bean Chile.”

“We feel like our menu is a teaching tool for parents and they will also get to learn what some of these foods are that they might not experience in their own home,” she said.

Smith said her vision for Farm to Preschool is to serve locally grown, seasonal foods in their program that serves 6,000 meals a day. “We want children to be involved heavily in building, planting, maintaining and harvesting from the school garden,” she said.

But the teaching does not end at school.  “We want children and parents to experience fresh grown produce and families to be replicated in the gardens and cooking at home,” she said.  “And we have really experienced that here at Neighborhood House Association.”

“We always hear that children go home and they’re asking their parents to cook whatever we served them at school today, and we have heard that parents are really interested,” Smith added.

Harris also said the programs use family engagement to “help reinforce the lessons and bring them home.”

Zoe Phillips of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, which facilitates Farm to Preschool, said their hope is that starting Farm to Preschool programs at the pre-school stage “will lead to a greater demand when these children graduate and go into Kindergarten and upper elementary school and beyond” and that both parents and kids will want the program to continue.

“(W)e’re hoping that the children exposed to it during the preschool years, that they’ll move on and they’ll help start more Farm to School programs because of their experience in preschool,” Phillips said, who administers the Farm to Preschool Web site.

Farm to Preschool provides schools with resources to help launch their own programs to serve “the full spectrum of child care delivery,” which includes, “preschools, Head Start, center-based, programs in K-12 school districts, nurseries and family home care facilities,” according to the website.

The first lady’s Let’s Move! Child Care campaign hosted the event “Farm to Preschool: Digging in to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity!” on Sept. 12 to coincide with the beginning of a new school year.

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