In an age of grab-and-go convenience, a SUNY Cobleskill program is keeping family-style mealtime front and center. With help from the preschoolers themselves, who help set the table and serve snacks, the Effie Bennett-Powe Childhood Development Center’s preschool program holds a family meal every day.
“[Family mealtime] is actually part of the curriculum,” explains Dr. Gail Wentworth, Early Childhood professor and department chair of the Early Childhood and Psychology Department. “It builds a sense of community for the children. They sit and have snack and just talk. It is a beautiful thing.”
For Early Childhood practicum students, family mealtime is a valuable component of applied learning, where classroom lessons intersect with real-word experience. Nutritional education for Early Childhood students begins before they reach practicum level. In “ECHD 240 – Child and Family Wellness,” students build balanced menus and recipe charts. In doing so, students learn to incorporate healthy ingredients – including those available through “Schoharie Fresh” Online Farmers’ Market – and how to encourage preschoolers to try new foods. All menus comply with Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) guidelines, which provide specifications on which type of vegetables (leafy greens versus starchy, for example) students should include on their menus and in what quantities. Practicum students also lead baking activities; annually the preschool visits the Culinary Arts program and prepares food in the kitchen.
For Dr. Wentworth, work with food and its impact on creating senses of community and comfort reaches beyond the preschool. As one of six current fellows of the Institute for Rural Vitality at SUNY Cobleskill, Dr. Wentworth coordinates an intergenerational program based at the Cobleskill Campus Child Care Center. The program creates a support network for area community members living with or caring for those suffering from dementia-related diseases who come to campus and socialize with the preschoolers. Family-style meals highlight each meeting.
“It goes back to creating that sense of warmth and familiarity,” says Dr. Wentworth. “We all join together for a hot lunch. It wasn’t planned or anticipated; this happened organically.”
Feature image: Practicum student, Jetta Day, with preschoolers at the Effie Bennett-Powe Child Development Center