July 13, 2011

Natural Foodie: Kids & kale?

Unlikely, right? Well, as a matter of fact, a Portland daycare center is serving kale – and meals made with local, healthy foods – and cutting out the processed stuff, and the children are gobbling it all up.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Lauchlan Gartland leans back so he doesn't lose even a crumb of his burrito.

Photos by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

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Fresh and local fixings, including grated carrots and shredded greens, are assembled for a rice and bean burrito lunch to be served to the children at the Youth & Family Outreach daycare center in Portland.

Additional Photos Below

Breakfast brings offerings such as whole grain blueberry muffins, fresh fruit, cold cereal, hot oatmeal or whole grain vegan pancakes.

While whole foods and fresh vegetables abound on the menu, one thing in short supply is sugar. Sugary drinks and even 100 percent juice were eliminated years ago, and these days Yacks keeps a sharp eye on the amount of sugar in her recipes.

"I use 1/3 of a cup of sugar when I make 43 muffins," Yacks said.

Birthday celebrations take place once a month, and rather than cupcakes, the kids enjoy fruit smoothies or fruit kabobs.


"K has really worked with the teachers to help present the food," Babson-Haley said.

A good example is the Thai chicken salad. The first time the toddler group was served this meal, they balked. But Yacks realized if the salad was separated into its constituent parts of rice noodles, chicken and leafy greens, the youngest students would be more willing to try these new foods. And it worked.

"It becomes, 'Oh my gosh, my food is fun,' " Yacks said.

One of the first changes the center made involved its bread purchases.

When Yacks took over the kitchen post, she discovered that the only breads in the organization's price range contained high-fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener that has been linked to obesity in medical studies.

She found a Nature's Place bread that didn't contain any artificial ingredients, but it came with a $2.99 per loaf price tag.

Then she met the folks who run the Portland-based Bomb Diggity Bakery, which employs people with intellectual disabilities to make baked goods using all-natural ingredients. Yacks was able to work out a deal to buy whole grain bread at the wholesale price of $2.25 per loaf.

The purchasing agreement has since been expanded to include granola bars, English muffins, wheat rolls and hamburger buns. All the baked goods are free of dairy, eggs and nuts.

"I don't use ketchup on anything, and I'm making all the salad dressings from scratch," Yacks said.

Since those scratch-made dressings include miso-thaini and buttermilk ranch, it's no wonder the youngsters are gobbling up their veggies.

Changing to minimally processed foods has also required some creative maneuvering.

"When we switched to natural peanut butter, we had to put it in a Skippy jar for the first month," said Greenlaw.

Babson-Haley sees another challenge in maintaining such a high-quality meal program.

"We can't afford to pay K what she deserves to be paid," Babson-Haley said.

At the end of the month, Yacks will be leaving her post to move to New York City. Babson-Haley intends to look for a similarly minded person to carry on the innovative food program.


The Youth & Family Outreach students tend a series of raised beds along Preble Street, and the fresh vegetables they grow show up in their lunches.

"One of the big issues with food is we've lost the connection to where food comes from," Babson-Haley said.

The center's new food program wants to restore this connection by introducing the children to farmers and food suppliers and teaching them how to compost.

"Our compost goes to the farm, and the farm's produce comes here," Yacks said. "They're seeing the full cycle."

Lual Maker, 5, appreciates knowing where his food comes from and where it goes.

"I like when they bring the English muffins," he said of the deliveries from Bomb Diggity Bakery.

Lual, like many of the students, has become an expert composter. When asked what can't be put in the compost bins, he doesn't hesitate before saying, "no milk, no meat and no water."

As Yacks said, "This is the future of our food."


Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Follow her on Twitter at: Twitter.com/AveryYaleKamila


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Additional Photos

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Makai Man enjoys lunch with fellow toddlers.

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Kayla Landry, a teacher at the Youth & Family Outreach daycare center in Portland, serves lunch to her young charges.

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Sugar snap peas grow among other vegetables in the raised beds beside the center.

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