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Nutritionist designs healthy eating plan for Headstart kids

Alyssa Athman with MAHUBE-OTWA not only sends home helpful suggestions to families, she also plans nutritious meals for preschool children in Hubbard and adjacent counties.

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Preschoolers in the Park Rapids Head Start program chow down with a healthy, nutritious lunch on Thursday.
Contributed / MAHUBE-OTWA
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A local agency is working to ensure that area children are properly nourished by the time they start kindergarten.

According to MAHUBE-OTWA, the five-county community action partnership has a dietician on staff helping “to create a safe, realistic and healthy eating plan” for each child enrolled in Head Start.

Alyssa Athman has both a Master of Public Health degree and a Registered Dietician Nutritionist credential. She has worked with MAHUBE since April 2021.

“When each Head Start child is enrolled, they get a health and nutrition history completed,” said Athman. “Each year, we review those and give tips, healthful information for families, saying, ‘This is what you’re doing really well; this is something that maybe could be improved upon.’ We send home educational materials for the families on that.”

She said these materials are specifically tailored to each child and their family’s needs.

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The nutrition history includes such questions as “Do you have enough food to feed your family? Is your child a picky eater? How many fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains and protein servings do they eat a day?”

“For our infants, we ask, ‘How do you prepare their bottles? Do they have breast pump or formula?’” Athman added. “Based on the answers they provide, I take that information and give recommendations.”

She said they also measure each child’s height and weight at the beginning and middle of each year, comparing to see if they can bring up the weight of underweight children and to help overweight children come back down to a healthy weight.

“With the kids that we get and the numbers that we get, we try to do as much improvement as we can by giving them healthy meals – breakfast, lunch and snack – and following the USDA food program (guidelines) and all those nutrition requirements,” Athman said.

She explained that the USDA’s Child Adult Food Care Program provides federal reimbursement for serving healthy meals and snacks. Head Start also sometimes help families by sending out snack packs.

“Last summer, we sent out about 1,400 snack packs to our families,” she said. “That was about $15 worth of healthy foods, delivered to them. We saw another need for that earlier this year, and so we did another two weeks of snack packs for our families.”

Athman said MAHUBE-OTWA currently has about 300 families enrolled across Hubbard, Mahnomen, Becker, Otter Tail and Wadena counties, with a capacity of up to 500 children.

She said the goal is “to make sure that all of our families have their children receive healthy meals. … And then, if we can do a little extra to help the families as a whole to become resilient.”

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MAHUBE also reported that staff is practicing what they preach, with its workplace break rooms stocked with healthy and nutritious snacks.

The “agency has a wellness committee,” Athman confirmed. “We provide healthy snacks in the break room for our employees through that fund.”

As far as measuring the results of that initiative, she said, “I think our staff enjoy it, because it empties pretty quickly.”

Athman noted that enrollment is open for its programs in the coming year, including preschool, home-based visits and family child care daycare centers. “It’s a great way to get your child ready for kindergarten,” she said.

To enroll in Hubbard County, call 218-732-7204 or visit mahube.org.

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Related Topics: MAHUBE-OTWAEDUCATION
Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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