Helping families eat well: Tips from award-winning Farm to Belly program

“Be Choosy, Be Healthy, Ms. Kerry!” said Zadiel as I was headed out the door of the Head Start Center. Zadiel is 4 years old and looks forward to seeing “Choosy” on Farm To Belly market and recipe bag days. He told me how much he loves to help his mom cook the vegetables that he “buys” with his tokens, and he loves to eat them too, because they make him very strong. He flexed his preschooler muscles and grinned. “When we have Farm To Belly days, it makes me very happy inside. I like to help in the gardens, too!”

Farm to Belly, a collaboration of Children’s Hospital of Greenville Health System, Feed & Seed and SHARE Head Start, is a one-of-a-kind food intervention program that gives preschoolers’ families weekly recipe bags and stages a produce market so that families can cook healthy food together as homework. The program also receives evaluation support from Clemson University.

On Tuesday, the program was awarded the 2018 Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award. The program is now in four Head Start centers in Greenville County, but we hope to expand it statewide.

Here are some of my favorite tips from the program:

  • Water Your Kids: Children need water every day to help their brains and bodies work their best—and the great news is, it’s cheap!
  • Take a “Try Me Bite”: Model eating healthy foods, or actually try new healthy foods, yourself. This will encourage your child to try the food as well.
  • The Family That Shops Together: Have your children help you find healthy foods at the store. The more they help, the more they learn about healthy foods.
  • I Spy Something … Healthy! Kids will ask for things they can see. Keep healthy snacks on the lower shelves in the fridge or at eye level for children.
  • Together Is Better: Have your child help set the table, make the meal and clean up. This is great “together” time after a busy day.

Here’s a top kid-favorite recipes for the fall:

Mashed sweet potatoes

  • 2 lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 3 tbsp. applesauce
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp. salt


  • Place a large pot of water to boil.
  • Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into small chunks or cubes.
  • Add to the water and boil until fork tender, about 25 minutes.
  • Drain the potatoes, add them to a bowl and mash with a potato masher or fork.
  • Add applesauce, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and salt.
  • Mix well and serve hot with a side of vegetables and lean protein for a balanced and healthy meal!

Kerry McKenzie is Farm to Belly program coordinator and a special projects coordinator with Prisma Health Children’s Hospital’s Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy.

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