Mealtime Memo – April 2021

April 2021 Mealtime Memo

Growing an Array of Colors

April is here! The wide open outside air is calling us. This month, we can use that outside invitation to think about gardening. Whether you are a master level gardener or a first season beginner, give it a try. Consider including your children in the planning, growing, and eating! Gardening offers great learning activities and exploration for your children. They can be part of each step: from selecting the seeds or plants, to getting the soil ready, to caring for and watering the plants all the way through to the harvest. They can even name the garden.

Gardens can be whatever you want them to be. Grow what you want. Experiment with different plants and locations. They can be small or large, one plant or many, in containers, on rooftops, or in the ground. You can consider growing herbs, vegetables, or even edible flowers. The possibilities are endless. Most of all, have fun!

Gardening also encourages us to move our bodies and be outdoors, improving our cardiovascular health and exposure to vitamin D. Children of all ages love to play outside and get a little dirty. The enjoyment of dirt turns out to be good for our overall well-being. Research shows that children who are exposed to soil in their formative years tend to develop stronger immune systems and have fewer allergies. More time outdoors also means increased vitamin D intake from the sun improving the immune system, cognition, hormones, and bone growth. The benefits are as plentiful as the kinds of plants you can grow. In their simplest form, garden vegetables show an array of colors, and those colors mean an array of nutrients for our bodies.

This month’s theme word is GROWING.

April Food Themes

April features some great daily food themes that fit our overall theme of growing. Consider using some of these themes in your menus to show your children just how great their fresh produce can taste.

National Carrot Day – April 4th

Carrots are a very versatile vegetable. You can boil, steam, microwave, roast, or eat them raw. They can be grated and added to salads, muffins, and even cookies. Plus, you can grow them in your garden! Celebrate National Carrot Day with these tasty Morning Muffins from Oregon State University and show off the versatility of carrots!

Earth Day – April 22nd

April 22 marks Earth Day. It’s a day for us to think about and reflect on the state of our planet. More than a billion people celebrate Earth Day every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national, and local policy changes for a healthier planet. The theme for 2021 Earth Day is Restore Our Earth focusing on supporting local communities and areas that are more affected by environmental issues. We can all make a plan and do our part to take good care of our planet Earth. Start the day out by wishing your children a Happy Earth Day. Farm to fork (or spoon) food can be celebrated today.

National Picnic Day – April 23rd

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It’s often claimed that life is no picnic, but on National Picnic Day it is! Spring is one of the most invigorating times of the year. As the days get longer, we gravitate outdoors, gladly enjoying the sunshine and warmer temperatures. It is perfect for our gardens too. One of the perks of warmer weather is gathering with family and friends to enjoy a meal outside.

Wouldn’t your children love a picnic lunch outside? If the weather isn’t cooperating, you can always do an indoor picnic. This is a great day to talk about gardens and favorite healthy picnic foods.

National Zucchini Bread Day – April 25th

Fun Fact! The word zucchini comes from the Italian word “zucca” which means squash. The Italians brought the first Zucchinis to the United States in the 1920s. It is a summer squash that actually belongs to the pumpkin family. Zucchini grows in warm, dry climate, on well-drained, moist soil. It represents one of the most popular and most commonly consumed vegetables today. Zucchini is a very versatile food as it takes on the flavor of the ingredients it’s matched with. It’s common in a savory stir-fry, casseroles, and numerous vegetable side dishes. But you can bake with it too! Zucchini is a favorite vegetable to grow yourself and your children will be able to watch it grow. The Child Nutrition Recipe Box (CNRB) has a lot of recipes that use zucchini. Go here and type the word zucchini in the search box and then pick a zucchini recipe to celebrate this day!

Pro tip: Choose the right zucchini- biggest is NOT best. The most flavorful zucchinis are small-to-medium-sized.

April is National Grilled Cheese Month

If your children like grilled cheese, try offering different versions each week. Change up the cheese or add toppings like fresh greens from the garden, tomato slices or even a slice of turkey to add some flair to a basic grilled cheese. You can also serve on different bread. Try whole grain flatbread or a whole grain tortilla for a change. Check out this Tuscan Grilled Cheese Sandwich recipe from USDA.

Get Recipes on the Child Nutrition Recipe Box

What’s in Season in April?

Fruits and vegetables always taste better when they are in season in your area and harvested close to their peak of freshness. This section features several in-season fruits and vegetables. Consider including some of these fruits and vegetables in your menus this month.
Spring’s arrival brings a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables to the table. In-season vegetables include asparagus, artichokes, snap peas, rhubarb, and carrots. In-season fruit includes apricots, lemons, pineapples, and strawberries. Carrots are one of our highlighted vegetables this month, as April 4th is National Carrot Day!
Many of the children in your care have probably tried carrots before. Maybe raw and dipped in ranch dressing as a snack? Maybe they have had them steamed as a side at dinner time? Have they tried carrots in a muffin? Celebrate National Carrot Day with these tasty Morning Muffins from Oregon State University and show off the versatility of carrots!
Rhubarb is another vegetable harvested in the spring. It is a perennial plant with stalks similar to celery. While it is technically a vegetable, it is often considered a fruit due to its tart taste. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is most popular as a dessert filling. Rhubarbs are high in vitamin K as well as phytochemicals that help our bodies prevent chronic diseases. Add some rhubarbs to your children’s diets and maybe even add to your garden to grow.

Gardening Fun Facts For Kids

  • Did you know one teaspoonful of good soil holds more than one million living things?
  • Do you know why plants are green? It’s because they have chlorophyll, which helps them make their food. Everything that has chlorophyll in it is green.
  • How can a little insect get inside your apple? When the apple grows an insect burrows inside and lives happily in the apple as it gets bigger–until you take a bite. Ewww!
  • Do you know why apples float on water? Because they consist of 25% AIR!
  • Is a cucumber a fruit or a vegetable? A cucumber is a fruit, because it has seeds!
  • The different types of true vegetables are bulb, root, stem and tuberous. Bulb, root, and tuberous vegetables grow in the soil and stem vegetables grow outside of the soil.

Next month’s “Be Brave and Try New Things!” will focus on our picky eaters — trying new foods and being brave.

References

Earth Day. (2021). Climate and environmental literacy. https://earthday.org/
The Institute of Child Nutrition. (2021). Child Nutrition Recipe Box. https://theicn.org/cnrb

Institute of Child Nutrition, Child Nutrition Recipe Box. (2021). Tuscan grilled cheese sandwich – USDA recipe for child care centers. https://theicn.org/cnrb/recipes-for-centers-sandwiches/tuscan-grilled-cheese-sandwich-usda-recipe-for-schools/

Oregon State University Extension Service. (2021). Morning muffins. https://foodhero.org/recipes/morning-muffins
University of Nebraska—Lincoln. (2021). Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources UNL Food. https://food.unl.edu/

University of Pittsburgh, Department of Psychiatry. (2019, June 27). The mindfulness, healing and wellness garden helps children and adolescents manage emotions. https://psychiatry.pitt.edu/mindfulness-healing-and-wellness-garden-helps-children-and-adolescents-manage-emotions

U.S. Department of Agriculture, MyPlate. (2021). MyPlate kitchen. https://www.myplate.gov/myplate-kitchen

About Mealtime Memo

Mealtime Memo (MTM) is focused on nutrition and wellness in child care settings and is specifically intended for use by child care professionals who participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The objective is to provide research-based best practices for planning, preparing, and/or serving nutritious, safe, and child-friendly meals in child care settings operating the CACFP.

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2021-05-10T10:44:37-05:00April 2nd, 2021|

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