Bright lights gleam off the kitchen’s stainless steel stovetops as Chef Joe Bernard dusts off his “Green Eggs and Ham” shirt and sends out the last food cart at the Garnero Child Development Center on the Puyallup campus.
The dark aroma of baked beans contrast with the lightly seasoned fish and fresh cantaloupe. The kitchen is missing the canned, frozen and processed foods that are commonly found in school kitchens. The center’s staff has replaced those items with fresh, low-processed foods.
Staff members at Garnero are doing their part to curb a problem in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in the 1970s, only 5 percent of children in the U.S. were considered obese. During the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled and now one out of six children is obese.
Garnero didn’t start as a cutting-edge childcare center in the area of nutritional children’s food. As at many schools and daycares, the staff followed the USDA guidelines, but Bernard felt the guidelines set by the USDA are below par for what children’s bodies really need.
“If the USDA said it’s OK it must be, but that’s not true,” Bernard said. “That standard is very low. I think that is unfair to the kids.”
After earning his early childhood education degree from Bates Technical College, Bernard got caught up with food and children’s health. He has been a chef for seven years.
“I think there is a big piece missing as far as what and how we can teach our kids,” Bernard said, “and that piece is food and nutrition.”
Center Director Michael Koetje said that from the beginning, the center’s staff members wanted to make the food for the children, but they were required to use the food that came from the college cafeteria. The food wasn’t the nutritional standard Garnero wanted though.
“They were cooking out of cans, nothing fresh or whole,” Bernard said.
When the college’s contract with the food provider, Chartwells, was up for negotiation, the college gave away the rights to the vending machines on-campus, which brings in several hundred thousand dollars a year, to Chartwells in exchange for the ability to control the children’s nutrition at the center.
Pierce College hired Bernard a year ago to be the head chef of the child development centers at Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom campuses.
He was hired after given workshops at Pierce College and officials saw his passion and knowledge of children’s health.
“It (school food) is below par for what the bodies and brains really need,” Bernard said. “That piece has been lost. What the kids really need nutritionally has just been tossed away.”
Today Bernard has the menu where he wants it; low-processed, locally grown, whole foods. “He (Bernard) does all the menus,” Koetje said. “He doesn’t use any sugar… the least amount of processing in the food he can get.”
Miranda Bangle’s son Jacek attends Garnero and she says her son loves the food.
“It’s refreshing to know, as a parent, that my child’s daycare doesn’t cut costs when it comes to food quality,” Bangle said. “The kitchen staff at Garnero strives to feed our kids the best food they can in order to provide adequate nutrients and energy needed for little growing bodies.”
Garnero’s staff has figured out how to buy more local, high quality foods such as organic chicken. Budget is a factor, but they spend more on what they feel is important and cut back in other areas. Budgeting, buying and using are the key.
“For the price we pay, to have a cook that prepares the meals from scratch that’s pretty awesome,” Bangle said.
They realized that food is the basis of health and behavior. “It affects how kids behave in the classroom,” Koetje said. “If you want to change kids’ behavior in the classrooms you feed them differently.”
This is not a trend confined only to Garnero. Bernard and the director at Bates began to work on the nutritional aspect of what they were doing for kids. They have formed a network that do workshops and provide resources for early childhood education teachers.
“I feel like there is a wave happening,” Bernard said.
More daycares and preschools in the area also have begun to follow this trend of switching to more nutritious food. Puyallup South Cooperative Preschool is one of these schools turning to more nutritious whole foods for the kids; focusing on healthy, family-style meals.
There is a growing concern, especially with the skyrocketing child obesity rates.
“Everybody is concerned but no one knows what it (food health) looks like,” Bernard said. “Even the school districts are concerned they just don’t know, so it’s not happening.”
Bernard currently is pushing for more workshops, awareness and involvement from
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