Preschool program fights food insecurity with healthy snacks and food education


By Parent and Early Childhood Education Program Manager Amanda Williams

Here’s some food for thought.

In 2020, children represented nearly 36% of food shelf visits in Minnesota and nearly 38% of the visits at our food markets. These children are our neighbors, our peers, and my students. Take that figure and consider how it will continue to increase as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, and it is clear that we have a heartbreaking problem on our hands: many children in our community do not have enough food to eat.

Studies show preschool-aged children who experience regular food insecurity can suffer from long-term developmental impacts and are more likely to lag behind their peers in crucial areas of their growth—particularly social, emotional, physical, and, in some instances, cognitive development. Hunger makes it harder for young children to do well in school, both behaviorally and academically. In the short term, young children who experience chronic hunger typically have a harder time paying attention and regulating their emotions in class. Long term, those same children are more likely to have lower math scores and repeat a grade than their classmates who come from food-secure homes. Simply stated, chronic hunger can overwhelm a student’s ability to learn.

In 2018, Neighborhood House’s Parent and Early Childhood Education (PECE) program was compelled to get involved. We partnered with the food market and established CrEATive Cooking with Kids—a program that provides preschoolers with a healthy snack and positive, hands-on learning experiences centered around food access and education.

Prior to the pandemic, staff members from Neighborhood House’s food markets visited the preschool classroom each month with a kid-friendly recipe to share such as fruit pizza, yogurt parfaits, and veggies with dip. Staff then helped the preschool students recreate the recipe, ensuring each student had a hand in the preparation by cutting, mixing, or measuring ingredients. After students were finished preparing the dish, the class enjoyed their newly-made snack together.

During one lesson, 5-year-old Damien proudly shared something that amazed him. He told one of his teachers, “Peaches don’t come from a factory! They grow on trees!”

CrEATive Cooking with Kids has proved to be one of our preschoolers’ favorite activities and is a great way to provide children with a healthy snack and engage them and their families in bigger conversations around food.

You can help preschoolers and their families who are experiencing food insecurity. Your gift for March Food Drive will help provide fresh, healthy foods to families in the St. Paul area. A donation of $150 provides a month’s worth of groceries to a family of four.