How One Partner's Commitment Created Better Products for All

Partner spotlight from PHA’s 2016 Annual Progress Report

Darsetta Wood knows how kids feel about things they make themselves: Proud. Proud enough to eat them. Even if those things are… vegetables. Image of Darsetta Wood, an employee at KinderCare Education, a Partnership for a Healthier America partner.

Wood, a cook at KinderCare Learning Center in Blue Springs, MO, lets the children there help pick the seeds for the fruits and vegetables she grows in the center’s garden. They also help tend the garden. Then she cooks it. And they eat it. All of it.

“If they grow it, they feel like they made it, and they are more likely to want to try it. Once I get them to try it, we’re on board. I’ve never had any problems getting my little friends to try something new and enjoy it,” she said.

Not every KinderCare Education center or site (KinderCare’s parent company also operates more than 470 school-based programs) has its own garden, of course. But all of the company’s centers now serve a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and much healthier menus overall. In 2014, the company partnered with PHA, promising to serve healthier meals to all 160,000 of the children under its care. However, implementing that commitment across its 1,900 centers and sites initially had its challenges. While the company was committed to serving healthier food, it had never actually developed an official corporate policy on nutrition, or a process for field testing meals to ensure kids would eat them. Partnering with PHA motivated the company to do both.

Image of children helping out in a garden at a KinderCare Education site. Once field testing began, one thing KinderCare quickly learned was that kids hated their pizza. In what’s considered one of their biggest successes, not only did they get their vendor to make a more nutritious pizza product – removing trans-fat and replacing the old crust with one that was whole grain – the new pizza was also tastier and cheaper to make. It passed the field test with flying colors.

Through PHA, KinderCare is now also working with Dannon, who reformulated its products to be more nutritious for kids.

The centers are helping to educate parents on the nutrition changes – even ones that haven’t been as popular, such as completely removing fruit juice from the menu. Up next? Finding a replacement for chicken fingers.

View KinderCare Education’s 2016 Annual Progress Report verified results.

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