ECA Blog

Afterschool Snacks

Let’s face it. When our kids get home from school, they are hungry.   But snacking isn’t a bad thing if you provide healthy options that will help satisfy a snack-attack, and at the same time not ruin the appetite for dinner.

To help explore some healthy snack guidelines and options available, I have asked Lisa Bradley, our Child and Adult Care Food Program Coordinator, to share some resources.

Have a Great Week!




It is hard to believe that the school buses are already running, and our school-agers have begun a new year. We hope that they all have a great start to the year and are excited about their new adventures. One thing that we can be sure of is that they will be ready for an afterschool snack when they get home.

When we plan afternoon snacks, we are providing the children with a chance to refuel between lunch and supper. Our serving choices are important.  We have the chance to rethink the afternoon snack.  Don’t get me wrong — I did like, do like and will always like cookies and milk after a hard day in class, but I do know that I can make better choices. One of those choices is water. Our bodies need water to maintain good health. If we start by knowing we are making water the snack beverage, then we can look at the food choices that we make.  Looking at snacks as mini meals is a great way to make nutritious balanced choices. We can consciously avoid dessert-type foods and serve in their places fruits or vegetables and lean proteins. Summer and early fall make local produce easy to find and affordable to purchase. Occasionally adding a whole grain in the place of the fruit/veggie or protein gives you many options. Some great, kid friendly ideas include green, red and yellow bell pepper strips and string cheese; whole wheat pita bread and peanut butter; romaine or iceberg lettuce wraps with chicken; and hummus with whole grain corn chips. All of these snacks will fill them up just enough to keep going but still have room for a great supper, and all of them can be served with water to drink. Making snack time fun and a time to relax and share how their days went can let children “shift gears.”

Letting our school agers help plan our menus gives them a bit of independence and get them thinking about what foods may taste good together. It also is a teachable moment when we can give them some guidance on healthy choices, serving sizes and seasonal fruits and veggies.

Snack time should be fun. After deciding what you are serving, look at how to serve it.  People eat with their eyes first. Making snacks that are not only tasty, but look fun adds to the experience we are trying to create and can start great conversations and healthy lifelong habits.





Lisa Bradley is the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Coordinator for ECA. She works across ECA’s 10-county service area, providing nutrition information and training while monitoring Program compliance. Lisa, who has a degree in culinary arts, has also worked as the Food Quality Controller at ECA’s Learning Center-Beacon Street.



For more tips about After School Snacks, visit:


What’s For Lunch?

Along with getting all of your child’s school supplies, back-to-school prep should include planning for healthy lunches.

A healthy school lunch provides sound nutrition to establish a lifetime of healthy habits and the energy your child needs for the rest of his busy day.  My son participated in “Lunch Bunch” for the past year through his preschool.  In doing so, he is convinced that Mommy needs to pack his lunch for him to take to school this year as well.  So like a lot of other parents, I am the one responsible for ensuring that he gets the nutrition he needs to get through the day.

To help explore some healthy lunch guidelines and options, I have asked Lisa Bradley, CACFP Coordinator, to share some resources.

Have a Great Week!




One of the biggest memories I have about elementary school is sitting with my class in the lunch room and opening my Little House on the Prairie lunch box to see what wonders I would find inside. I did not think about whether coming up with fun, nutritious lunches each day was a tough thing for my mom to do. All I knew was that I could count on my lunch being the best one at the table. Looking back, I realize that a lot of time was involved to pack four lunches, five days a week, and to keep it interesting and healthy. I asked my mom her secret, and she said that the biggest one was….planning.

It sounds easy, but planning has its challenges. First of all, there is making a nutritious lunch that will be eaten. Whether you are a parent packing a lunch box, a day care provider feeding 10 children, or a school cafeteria worker, you know that food is only going to give them the nutrients they need if they actually eat it. I look at the My Plate material (see link below) and base my lunches on providing a lean protein, a fruit, a vegetable and a grain product. Milk is my go-to beverage for the vitamins and minerals it provides. Letting children help plan is a good way to teach them about wise food choices as well as giving them a say in what they eat. Listening to our children’s input will also help us provide a variety of different foods so they will keep interested in what we are presenting to them. Shop together and explore the seasonal fruits and vegetables available at the grocery or at the farmer’s market.

It is also important while planning to take into account how much time the child has to eat. School settings have shorter lunch times than homes. We need to be careful to consider that for every item they may need help opening, they lose for eating. Having pre-cut, pre-peeled fruits and veggies, and sandwiches that are cut for easy handling is a handy way to add more minutes to their eating. Making sure we send a spoon or fork if needed also assists in time management. Another consideration is making sure that the foods we pack or prepare are not going to spoil if they sit in a locker or classroom. Fortunately, many new lunch boxes have small freezer packs that will keep things cool, or you can try freezing grapes as a fruit. When you child is ready for lunch, the grapes will be thawed, but anything perishable will still be fresh and safe to eat.

Keep it fun. Try using different cookie cutters to cut everything from sandwiches to fruit. Look for seasonal foods or try tying into things going on in their classes or at home. For example, on classroom yellow day, add a yellow food to the lunch. Speaking on adding foods, if you wish to try new foods, make sure that they are served with a mix of the familiar. It can take up to 10 tries when presenting new foods for a child to try it. If we present all new and unfamiliar foods, a lunch may not get eaten, and the rest of the day may be more challenging.

Lunch time is a great time to refuel and relax. These simple tips may make it easier for everyone involved!



Lisa Bradley is the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Coordinator for ECA. She works across ECA’s 10-county service area, providing nutrition information and training while monitoring Program compliance. Lisa, who has a degree in culinary arts, has also worked as the Food Quality Controller at ECA’s Learning Center-Beacon Street.



For more tips about Packing Healthy School Lunches, visit:


Math Matters

One, two, five, seven.”  Sound  familiar?  Random sequences are common as young children learn to count. Because math is everywhere every day, young children develop ideas about mathematics throughout their daily routines.

Math is a very active process for young children because it is the child’s way of thinking about and organizing their experiences to make sense of their world. It’s a process that involves reasoning, problem-solving and communication.  As you watch children at play, you will see them spontaneously explore such topics as patterns, shapes, addition and subtraction.

As caregivers, you can turn children’s early and natural mathematics play into an awareness of mathematical concepts and skills.  Your task is to find out what young children already understand and help them begin to understand these things mathematically.

For example, children can learn shapes and color concepts through art activities or by playing with blocks.  Cooking activities can teach how quantities are related and ordered.  Classroom games can teach the concepts of first and last, as well as high and low numbers.  Dramatic play can offer opportunities to learn about money, while songs, stories and finger plays can contain numbers and math words.  The opportunities are endless.

And attitudes matter. Unfortunately, adults often say that they “hated math,” or that math just “never made sense.”   Many adults, however, learned math through repetition and memorization, not really understanding the principles that form the foundation of mathematics.  Without that foundation, young learners typically hit a brick wall around the third grade, and become frustrated with math.

When children hear adults say things like “math is too hard,” they begin to fear math.  Your goal should be to build “mathematical power” in young children, and you can do this by modeling a positive view toward learning and using mathematics, understanding and appreciating the importance of mathematics, and engaging in mathematical thinking.

Have a Great Day!


*Article reprinted from past Enrich Community newsletter.

How is My Child Doing?


I worked as a childcare teacher for seven years. I had the opportunity to work with children in a variety of age groups, from 6 weeks to 6 years old.

I would have conversations with families about their child’s activities during the day, preferences for certain play materials, and sometimes their child’s development. Some families were not aware of typical developmental milestones while others were very aware of them and sometimes worried if their child had not yet reached a particular milestone. It is easy for parents to compare their child to a child’s sibling, cousin or other children in the childcare. I always wanted parents to keep in mind that all children develop differently. I have a niece, the first born, who was talking in “paragraphs” by age 12 months, while her younger sister was not talking much until age 3 and a half.

There is a range in which certain developmental milestones occur, such as learning to walk. Some children start walking at 9 months and others don’t start until 16 months. It really does not matter at what age the child starts walking as long as they start the skill somewhere in the age range. I know as I reflect upon my own development that I tended to be a little behind with fine motor tasks, such as cutting with scissors. However, I did learn, and even though I still am not great at cutting on the lines, this skill is not required in my adult occupation, and no one seems to notice that my Christmas wrapping paper is not cut perfectly!

I was pleased to know, as an early childhood teacher, that families were interested and involved in supporting their child’s development. It has been my occupation to help early childhood educators and families understand typical and atypical. My goal is to provide information about typical developmental milestones as well as specific “red flags for developmental concerns” so that we can catch problems early and provide resource information so that families can get support for a child’s delay in development. There are some really great resources available to help young children with their development so that these children will not have to go to kindergarten feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, blaming themselves because they cannot keep up with the rest of the class. Many of the resources available to support a child’s developmental delay are free or low cost.

Look through the information about “Child Development Red Flags” for children Ages 1 month to 36 months, or Ages 36 months to 60 months. If you have concerns about your child’s development related to these red flags, contact the following resources to ask for support:

  • For children ages 6 weeks to 33 months, contact First Steps Early Intervention.
    • The phone number for Allen County is 1-877-494-5115.
    • Call 1-866-725-2398, for the following counties: Dekalb, Elkhart, Kosciusko,LaGrange, Noble, Marshall, St. Joseph, Steuben or Whitley.
  • For children ages 34 to 60 months (or a child not yet in kindergarten), call your local public school.  There are free services available to children in this age range at ALL public school systems if the child qualifies for assistance.

You can also contact me with questions about typical and atypical development or specific disability information. I can be reached at 800-423-1498, or 260-745-2501 ext. 2496 (Allen County).  I can also be reached through e-mail




Nicole Wysong is the Inclusion Specialist at Early Childhood Alliance.  Through The Indiana Partnership for Inclusive Child Care (IPICC) project, Nicole impacts families of children with special needs and their child care providers. IPICC focuses on:

  • Offering on-site technical assistance
  • Providing training opportunities
  • Assisting child care providers to meet criteria in Paths to QUALITY
  • Increasing awareness of and providing resources for the unique needs of all children

Contact Nicole at or 800-423-1498.

Family Reading Time

This past summer, I signed up for a Summer Reading Program sponsored by Barefoot Books.  Each week I received an email with Literacy Tips and Book Lists to Ignite a Child’s Love of Reading.  Lots of helpful information was shared over the 12 weeks, but one email in particular impacted me and in turn, my family.  This particular email about “Why Reading Aloud is the Single Most Important Thing You Can Do” is something I want to share with you today.

We’ve all heard that reading to our children is important, but you might be surprised to learn just how much of an impact it has. Research shows that, of all the academic subjects, reading is the subject most responsive to family influence.

And since reading ability is a strong predictor of overall academic success, when families read together, it makes a huge difference for children.

In fact, early exposure to reading aloud has such a long-term influence on children’s outcomes, pediatricians in the United States are now required to prescribe reading to parents of all babies…from birth!

Not only does reading together help children’s cognitive development, but it also strengthens your parent-child bond. Creating a daily read aloud routine is one of the most important things you can do to support your child’s healthy development!

Stefanie Paige Grossman, M.S.Ed

Early Childhood Education / Infant & Parent Development Expert

Global Program Director, Barefoot Books

One line in particular haunted me after I read it – Creating a daily read aloud routine is one of the most important things you can do to support your child’s healthy development!  After reading that I realized I had let the ball drop for my kids.  Don’t get me wrong, I read with my children A LOT, but we have never really established a set read aloud routine.

I remember that when I was a child, every evening, my brothers and I would curl up on my parents’ bed and listen to Mom read aloud. My favorite books were the chapter books – the Bobbsey Twins in particular.  Each night we would read a chapter or two, and the four of us couldn’t wait until the next evening to see what happened next in the story.  I remember that we did this until my youngest brother was well into elementary school – which meant that I was in Middle School/High School when it ended.  Thoughts of those nights bring back a lot of memories.  They also bring back a feeling of warmth and closeness to my brothers and my mom.  However, the best thing that came out of those experiences is a love of hearing my mother read (or anyone read for that matter) and a true love of stories.    I want the same for my children.

This month we are starting a family reading time.  We purposely shut off the TV and read together.  We cuddle together on Mommy & Daddy’s bed and spend at least 15 minutes together reading stories.  My husband takes turns reading aloud as well so that the kids can see that it’s not just Mom that reads.  When the kids are a little older, I plan to start reading some of my favorite chapter books to them.  I can’t wait!

Do you have a favorite story that you read to your kids?

Have a Great Week!