Healthy Eating for a Healthy Start

Approximately 40% of New York City children in Head Start programs are overweight or obese.

Head Start centers serve children ages 3 to 5 from families living below the poverty line, often in low-income neighborhoods with high rates of obesity among adults. Numerous barriers impede efforts to increase access to healthy food and improve eating habits among children in Head Start. For staff and families alike, these include inadequate resources to purchase healthy foods and personal beliefs about food and obesity. Added to this is limited knowledge about nutrition, healthy eating behaviors and how to prepare healthy meals.

To respond to the current childhood obesity crisis, United Way of New York City created Healthy Eating for a Healthy Start (HEHS) in collaboration with the New York City Administration for Children's Services.

Currently at work in eight Head Start centers in Brooklyn and Manhattan, HEHS seeks to ensure that key adults who come in contact with Head Start children are all working in concert to promote, facilitate, and model healthy eating--whether that adult is a cook, teacher, or administrator at the Head Start center or a caregiver in the child's home.  The initiative has three components:

  • Training for Head Start food service staff in nutrition, preparing meals from scratch and healthy food ordering
  • Training and technical assistance for Head Start staff and administrators on topics such as modeling healthy eating, the relationship between healthy eating and positive educational outcomes, and engaging families in healthy eating activities
  • Family/caretaker engagement around nutrition through workshops and support groups as well as information on available community resources like farmers markets and green carts