Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA - To build a lifetime of good eating habits, small children need to get a head start by eating a variety of foods in the right portions. And the kids of Georgia State University’s Lanette L. Suttles Child Development Center are getting that head start thanks to master’s nutrition students this summer.
The master’s students interned at the center — administered by the College of Education and which provides child care while also serving as a laboratory for faculty and students studying early childhood education — helping to plan menus and studying food consumption to help the center make better use of its resources.
“They have performed a lot of good work,” said Stacey French-Lee, director of the center. “To have all of these resources on hand helps us to meet the mission of the university and provide quality child care.”
The students were faced with the challenge of helping to make menus better, giving greater variety of foods that meet nutritional guidelines and make better use the resources of the center, including a sole cook as well as the center’s existing food budget — all without any extra money or other extra space for a small kitchen.
“There were some challenges in menu planning,” said Jessica Hill, a master’s nutrition student. “I was not previously exposed to a food service setting, so cooking in large quantities and portioning out food was difficult for me at first.”
But they met those challenges, and introduced the children to fresh new foods that they might never have tried before, like avocados, mangoes and hummus, as well as set menus that use seasonal produce.
“They’ve been given a challenge, and they love it,” said Catherine McCarroll, clinical instructor and director of the Coordinated Program, the program for which students are pursuing their master’s degrees.
Variety, as well as receiving appropriate amounts of food at the right times during the day, is key in establishing good habits later in life, said Ben Xie, another master’s student who worked with the Child Development Center this summer.
“I personally believe that this is a critical period for kids to form these eating habits, because they could be life long,” Xie said. “If some kids eat only unhealthy foods when they’re this young, it might be a lifelong habit, and we definitely don’t want that.”
The students’ work assisted the center to meet new benchmarks for child care nutrition set by the American Dietetic Association. The benchmarks, released this year by the ADA, targets children from ages 2 to 5, and sets guidelines for the quality, variety and nutritional content of food served, while also setting food preparation standards, physical activity, and parental participation.
Nutrition interns helped to eliminate waste by conducting studies to see how much food the children were given wasn’t consumed. By knowing how much kids drink or eat, the center can reduce the amount of food it orders – saving money in the process, French-Lee said.
“It’s really helpful to make sure our budget is in line, and also fits in line with nutritional requirements,” she said.
The students’ work with the center is but one stop in a series of rotations called the Coordinated Program, which is required to obtain their degrees in nutrition at Georgia State. The program fulfills required competencies all students are required by the ADA to know in order to become registered dietitians.
The rotations are divided up into different sections so that students can get a broad range of experiences, from clinical settings like Grady Memorial Hospital, to management experiences, community outreach and other settings. Students are required to complete 1,200 hours of work during these rotations.
“As Georgia State has an urban emphasis, our rotations are mostly in the Atlanta area – like walking across the street to Grady,” McCarroll said.
Students can also enrich their experiences with other activities. After working at the Child Development Center, Hill decided to take her experiences abroad to India, working with malnutrition issues and traditional medicine in rural areas.
What she saw there was astounding – malnutrition due to extreme poverty, lack of knowledge of proper nutrition, and lack of proper sanitation and hygiene.
“It’s really amazing to me that many of the people in these villages have lived as long as they have in these conditions,” Hill said in an e-mail from India. “The hardest parts for me have been seeing clear signs of malnutrition in children. It breaks my heart.”
Food in the rural areas are limited to what can be grown locally and what people can afford to buy at the market – which in some places isn’t a lot, she said.
“Their diets are limited to large amounts of rice, other grains and unclean water,” Hill said. “Very few vegetables and even fewer fruits are in their diets. Most of the illnesses and disease we have seen are directly related to nutritional deficiencies.”
She noted a lack of iron, protein, the building block of muscles, Vitamin A, needed for vision, and calcium, necessary for good bone health. She and her counterparts are trying to fighting this lack of needed vitamins and minerals by bringing a mobile health van to give out supplements.
Hill also spent time learning more about yoga, traditional medicine and Indian cooking.
“We also learned the medicinal properties of several herbs and spices,” she said. “It was amazing.”
June 20, 2011