Terri Johnson has been feeding young minds and bodies for a very long time. Serving as director for Kid’s World Daycare and Preschool in Centerville since 2006, one could say she has the chops to recognize something good when she sees it.
“I truly believe that the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) enhances our quality preschool and daycare program,” Johnson said. “Being able to be reimbursed for food costs helps us keep meals and snacks nutritious, especially as costs continue to rise. We love the food program and I am proud of how we use it.”
And when Johnson provides her stamp of approval, it means something to this Iowa community.
Following high school, she began her childcare career working in a nursery classroom. She loved it so much she stayed, worked full time, earned her bachelor’s degree from Graceland College and has since worked for nearly 30 years at Kid’s World Daycare and Preschool in Centerville.
“This work is in my blood. These are my people. These are my kids,” she said.
Open since 1991, Kid’s World Daycare and Preschool is located in one of the poorest counties in Iowa and currently serves 84 children, 25 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced-price meals. The center provides breakfast and lunch plus a morning and afternoon snack. Known as a non-pricing center, parents are not charged extra for food, but rather food is included in the tuition.
Open 12 months of the year, this well-established, busy center is a visible, vibrant part of the Centerville community. Operating as a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization, participating in CACFP helps ensure the best, most nutritious, enriching value for food dollars spent, directly impacting the health, well-being, and future of these young Iowans.
“What I love about being part of CACFP is that they require trainings for staff each year,” Johnson said. “You learn healthy eating habits for yourself and the kids. We start in our baby room introducing healthy, new foods, so kids try things and learn healthy eating habits. Our kids love fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Johnson says without CACFP the cost of fresh items would be prohibitive and so more packaged foods would be in the picture. With CACFP they are able to participate in farmers’ markets and also obtain grants to grow gardens, including window and container gardens.
“We incorporate the project approach into our curriculum,” Johnson said. “We did observational drawings during our garden project and visited Country Roads Produce. Kids love being able to grow the food and then eat the food. Some kids had never tried tomatoes, but if you help grow the tomato, you’re going to try the tomato!”
During a restaurant project the group visited George & Nick's, a favorite Centerville restaurant, where the owners had the preschoolers make and take home their own mini-pizzas. The three-year-old preschool class did a seed project where the nutritionist from Mercy Hospital talked about how healthy seeds are to eat and she made pancakes with the kids and used seeds as toppings.
“We love to incorporate cooking and literacy into our program,” Johnson said. “You can incorporate counting and reading when teaching children about food.”
Johnson also utilizes CACFP as a great resource for recipes.
The two-year-old Busy Bee Classroom made homemade bread and the four-year-olds made healthy and delicious blueberry smoothies. The children made fried potatoes including the onions and peppers they grew. They also made couscous castles by filling paper cups with couscous then turning the cups upside down so the inverted couscous looked like sand castles.
At meal and snack time, the children sit together at tables to eat where some of the food is pre-plated and some is served family style. The CACFP encourages this as an opportunity for fellowship, friendship, engaging in conversation about the day and for learning manners.
Johnson notices that children who start with the center in the infant program are used to trying new things versus those who enter at the 3- or 4-year-old preschool level. Daily reports stating what the children have eaten are sent home each day. Parents often say their children won’t try new things at home, but are amazed to learn that at Kid’s World their children eat salad with cucumbers and peppers in it.
Many families have come through the center over time with multiple generations of children being cared for ranging in age from 6-weeks to 12-years old. The center includes an infant room, 2-year-old classroom, 3-year-old preschool classroom and daycare, 4-year-old voluntary preschool program, and school-aged before and after-school program as well as a summer program.
Johnson encourages everybody to participate in CACFP.
“There is paperwork but it is so worth it,” Johnson said. “If you just keep up with it each week, what you get out of it is so much. The training for the staff is awesome, and now much of it is online which makes it convenient.”
“All the people I have worked with that check our paperwork for CACFP are just great,” Johnson said. “They are not out to get you, they are there to help you and make sure you are doing it right and make sure you understand what you are doing. They are available to answer your questions, like if a child has a food allergy. They are great resources. They are there to back you up.”