At the Des Moines-area La Petite Academy, healthy eating habits are introduced early. A variety of foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains are served daily to the children at the early child care center. And with the assistance of the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program, better known as CACFP, La Petite Academy can ensure daily meals and snacks will remain nutritious, tasty and fun for years to come.

La Petite Academy in Des Moines provides meals, such as breakfast, lunch and snack, to nearly 100 students per day, ranging in ages from 18 months to 11 years old. Since 2009, the parent organization has implemented a Grow Fit model to improve nutritious menu offerings. Changes have included removing juice, adding more fruits and vegetables and achieving 100 percent whole grain-rich offerings. Each week, students can enjoy “Meatless Mondays” meals and “Veggie-Fueled Fridays,” which feature two vegetables at lunch. The organization also now works with a registered dietitian to develop weekly healthy menu options for all La Petite Academy locations, including the one in Des Moines.

La Petite

“We have really committed to providing healthy meals and snacks for our students,” said Mary Clark, manager of operational compliance and CACFP. “We’ve participated in CACFP for nearly 24 years. Having CACFP has greatly helped to fund our efforts and provide a variety of healthy foods.”

CACFP is a federally funded program that provides reimbursement for meals in child care centers, adult day care centers, emergency shelters, before- and after-school programs and child development homes. Through CACFP, lifelong healthy eating and physical activity habits are supported for children and adults across Iowa.

La Petite

“CACFP reimbursement truly helps to support child and adult care organizations and encourages nutritious meal options and healthy living,” said Ann Parker, CACFP consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “We encourage other Iowa centers and providers to apply for CACFP funding.”

Des Moines La Petite Academy director Jenny Snyder has been with the organization for 35 years and has seen the evolution of the center’s nutrition program, which focuses on healthy menus as well as classroom instruction on healthy foods.

“In all of our age group programs, we have incorporated learning about healthy eating and physical activity,” she said. “It could be a craft activity on healthy foods, how to grow different types of produce or something simple like what does it mean to be healthy.”

La Petite

Snyder also notes that healthy eating tips and education have been extended to families to help support student development.

“We have provided resources to parents for classroom parties and celebrations, like Valentine’s Day,” she said. “We encouraged them to leave the sweets at home and offered alternative ways to celebrate with the kids at the center.”

For Snyder, CACFP has been an important part of the Des Moines La Petite Academy’s use of healthy foods, and it has helped to make their meals a valuable time for everyone.

La Petite

“The meals are a solid part of our day,” Snyder said. “It’s not just a thing we do. It’s a time for teachers to have conversations with the children about what we’re eating and connect. It’s important.”

National CACFP Week is March 11-15.