A Bethesda parent says preschoolers should learn healthy eating habits in the same way they learn about colors, sharing and other life skills.
Caron Gremont left her job about a year ago to start First Bites, a soon-to-be-official nonprofit that offers a healthy food pilot program to area preschools and daycares. Gremont, who worked as a communications consultant for healthy eating initiatives, said she saw a lack of programming for 2- to 5-year-olds when it came to instituting good eating habits.
“There’s very little happening for younger children and great data that says their behavior is not yet set, that they’re willing to try new things,” Gremont said. “We want preschools and daycare centers to start thinking about healthy living as a life skill because they have a huge opportunity to teach them.”
In the spring, First Bites launched its first pilot program with almost 50 kids at the Ohr Kodesh Early Childhood Center in Chevy Chase. Gremont said a few more schools are interested in the program for the fall.
First Bites will train teachers on how to encourage healthy eating. The program isn’t just to get kids to eat their vegetables. It’s also to encourage an environment in which eating fresh food over processed food is instilled in kids from almost the very beginning.
“For a lot of kids, just because you put carrots out, they may not like it or actually eat it,” Gremont said. “We want to create an atmosphere and an environment led by teachers that makes kids more likely to eat better food.”
The program includes weekly cooking classes and outreach to families with advice and suggestions for easy, simple vegetable and fruit dishes that kids will want to eat.
It’s a solid bet that most preschools have a snack menu made up of processed, shelf-stable foods that are cheap and can last a long time. The goal of First Bites is to encourage a carrot-based hummus dish, for example, over Goldfish, Ritz crackers, raisins or cookies.
The Centers for Disease Control says childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years and that more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight in obese in 2010.
Last week, Gremont’s effort received a fair amount of attention after she wrote a piece for the Huffington Post detailing the snack offerings at one of her kids’ summer camp. The piece, which described how the camp compromised by allowing her daughter to stash healthy snacks in the nurse’s office, has been shared more than 7,000 times.
“It sounds like a great camp but it shocked me how little nourishment they are getting,” Gremont said. “It struck me that here my daughter is trying to be a quote, unquote healthy eater and she’s being treated like she has a disease by being sent to the nurse’s office every day for snack time.”
The goal for First Bites is a nonprofit that can provide for a national model. Gremont hopes a Facebook page for the organization can create a community of parents who want better foods.
“People want more. For me, it’s been really encouraging that this is something people care about,” Gremont said. “We should raise the bar.”