Scarlet De La Paz, left, Susana Huerta and Hayley Vangelista eat beans and rice for lunch at Jardín de Niños.
In an effort to reduce childhood obesity, Los Angeles County is targeting a group not often a part of the school-lunch reform movement: toddlers and preschoolers. The Eat Grow Play initiative, which launched Monday, will teach home day cares and preschools what a healthy lunch looks like.
"Obesity starts much younger, with one in five kids already being overweight or obese by age six," said Ashley Henderson, of the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles, which is running the program. "Starting at school age is just too late," she said, in part because children develop eating habits and taste preferences in the early years.
Over the next three and a half years, the L.A. County Department of Public Health and First 5 LA will spend $6.1 million to train 6,000 childcare providers in 500 workshops and with one-on-one follow up site visits.
Child care providers will learn how to plan menus and read food labels for calories, serving sizes and grams of sugar, officials said.
Recent studies have shown that preschoolers are often served highly processed, high-fat, high-sugar foods by their daycare providers.
Part of reason, advocates said, is a lack of education on healthy eating practices. Others include cultural preferences for low-nutrition foods and inadequate time and resources to prepare home cooked meals from fresh produce.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill on Oct. 11 that will require childcare providers to attend one hour of nutrition training as a condition of getting a license.
But advocates said it won't affect L.A. County's initiative. It's only for new licensees and doesn't kick in until 2016.