Start Strong: Cooking, Feeding, and More

University of Minnesota Extension

Overview

The Start Strong: Cooking, Feeding, and More is a direct education intervention for child care providers that promotes policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change in child care settings.  The intervention is designed to help child care providers increase their knowledge and skills of providing healthy foods for children, increase their knowledge of Federal food programs (SNAP, WIC, CACFP, and School Meals), and increase their confidence in talking about Federal food programs with families who may be food insecure. Family child care providers participate in four culinary nutrition education trainings to increase the knowledge and skills needed to create a healthier food environment for young children at their child care businesses. Child care providers may care for children of low-income families, so in order to address potential food insecurity, each training includes information about a food resource such as SNAP, WIC, and School Meals. As a result of training, child care providers promote healthier eating at their child care businesses by making changes that result in providing healthier foods and a greater variety of vegetables at meal times. For successful implementation of PSE change, facilitated discussions are held as a space for child care providers to learn promising practices from each other.

Target Behavior: Healthy Eating

Intervention Type: Direct Education, PSE Change

Intervention Reach and Adoption

The Start Strong: Cooking, Feeding, and More targets family child care providers in low-income areas as identified by census tract, school data, and Tier One in the Child and Adult Food Care Program. Providers who attend the Start Strong lessons learn that they are not just participants in the training but rather they are “partners” in providing low-income children with healthy food environments. 141 providers in SNAP-Ed eligible areas and 34 providers in non-SNAP-Ed eligible areas have taken at least one Start Strong training, and with each provider caring for an average of 10 children,  the estimated number of children reached with the intervention is 1,750. When several providers shared that they had previously cared for children from food insecure families, this led the Start Strong planning team to include information on food resources as part of the curriculum. Evaluations and feedback from child care providers in the pilots indicated that providers found information on food resources valuable, and the information increased their confidence in talking with families about food resources.

Setting: Child care (Learn)

Target Audience: Preschool (<5 years), Elementary School, Adults

Race/Ethnicity: No special focus.

Intervention Components

The Start Strong: Cooking, Feeding, and More includes four culinary nutrition education trainings to increase the knowledge and skills of child care providers and help them make PSE changes at their child care business that create a healthier food environment for young children. Start Strong uses The Learning Task Model for a framework. As part of each training, providers “Anchor” their learning in what they already know. The trainer “Adds” new information such as knife skills, cooking techniques to use less salt, preparing whole grains and low-cost protein foods, and menu planning. Providers “Apply” the information by practicing the skills and preparing recipes that can be served at their child care businesses. Providers then set goals on how they will take “Away” the information and apply it to their child care business. Each training includes information about a food resource such as SNAP, WIC, and school meals, and providers learn about each program and how to talk to families about the different resources available. For participants to apply the information during training sessions, the class size should be limited to 12, and the trainings should be taught in locations that allow for safe cooking. Since providers value learning from each other, facilitated discussion activities should be included in each lesson.

Intervention Materials

Start Strong: Cooking, Feeding, and More consists of four trainings.

Each training includes:

  • Lesson Plans with objectives, facilitated discussion, activities, and supply lists. Teaching materials, which include instructions on how to prepare teaching tools for the trainings, recipes, items to copy for training activities, evaluations, and certificates of attendance
  • Participant handouts to reinforce information being taught

Intervention Costs

Materials available at no cost.

Evidence Summary

In order to develop the initial framework of Start Strong: Cooking, Feeding, and More, information was used from three focus groups that were held with child care providers in low-income areas. After the initial training was developed, four child care providers participated in the pilot trainings and provided very specific feedback after each activity component. The providers completed a pre/post survey, and data from both the providers and trainers were used to revise the training. After the pilots, the trainings were slowly rolled out in the spring of 2018, and an evaluation study was done in the fall of 2019 to gather data across these sites. The results indicated that the majority of participants increased their confidence in seven of the seven cooking and planning skill areas, including confidence using a chef’s knife, using cooking techniques to reduce salt, and planning menus. Furthermore, participants increased their understanding of food programs, such as WIC, SNAP, and Free and Reduced Priced School Meals, with the most gain in understanding of SNAP. Lastly, all participants indicated that they serve a greater variety of foods as a result of the training, and more than 50% of child care providers indicated that they serve healthier foods as a result of the training.

An unexpected challenge of the intervention was that providers were reluctant to commit to all six weeks of training. To account for this, the number of culinary nutrition education trainings was reduced to four, and providers became able sign up for just one training at a time. An unintended outcome was that experienced child care providers were surprised with how much they learned about cooking and kitchen management skills, even after years of experience.

Evidence-based Approach: Emerging

Evaluation Indicators

Based on the SNAP-Ed Evaluation Framework, the following outcome indicators can be used to evaluate intervention progress and success.

Readiness and Capacity – Short Term (ST) Changes – Medium Term (MT) Effectiveness and Maintenance – Long Term (LT) Population Results (R)
Individual ST1 MT1
Environmental Settings MT5
Sectors of Influence

ST1: Healthy Eating

  • ST1c: Most (11/12) providers felt confident using beans and other low-cost proteins in their menus for children as result of trainings (pre/post).
  • ST1m: Most (11/12) provider felt confident using cooking techniques to reduce salt as result of trainings (pre/post).

MT1: Healthy Eating

  • More than half of providers (7/12) served healthier foods as result of trainings (pre/post).

MT5: Nutrition Supports

  • MT5d: 175 food environments with expanded access or improved appeal for healthy eating as a result of the Start Strong interventions

Evaluation Materials

Additional Information

Website: The University of Minnesota Extension website includes information on food, nutrition, and health.

Contact Person(s):
Mary Schroeder
507-337-2800
hedin007@umn.edu