PLATTSBURGH — Children learn lifelong skills for health and fitness firsthand at the Plattsburgh YMCA's Bright Beginnings Childcare Center.

This summer, they learned how “Eat Well, Play Hard" in a nutrition program presented by Bonnie Schultz, a Capital District Childcare Council dietitian.

“It's funded by the USDA through SNAP Ed and through the New York State Department of Health for eligible child-care centers in high-needs regions to work with 3- to 5-year-olds, the teachers in the classrooms and families to try to integrate more nutrition and physical activity just as part of the regular routine,” Schultz said.

“I'm thrilled to be here as part of this 12-week program where I come in and demonstrate a lesson, and then the next week the teachers have a very similar lesson that they do.”


Bright Beginnings' teachers took it to a new level, in her estimation.

“They are not only following the 'Eat Well, Play Hard' curriculum, they are figuring out how to integrate it and enhance it,” Schultz said.

“Give it their own style."

This Monday's theme is “Fitness is Fun,” which is one of six different themes.

“Today is a lot about the fun of moving our bodies in all different kinds of ways,” she said.

“The children really enjoy doing it. So we're going to start outside and move in all different kinds of ways and see their interpretations of it.”

After play, the children washed their hands and hydrated.

“Get some water because that is one of the best beverages for rejuvenating our bodies,” Schultz said.


Next, she led the children in building banana parfaits for their food activity.

“Yogurt, a little crushed cereal, banana,” Schultz said.

“They cut the banana, crush the cereal and layer.”

The bananas were halved, and each child selected one for their parfait.

Schultz taught them how to safely cut the banana into slices, horizontally and vertically, using their plastic knives.

“The 'Eat Well, Play Hard' program has been with us since the summer,” said Jacqueline Prather, director of Bright Beginnings.

“Bonnie has been coming to the center to introduce the children to all about food. She has been doing an amazing job just with fruits and vegetables. She comes and prepares fruits and vegetables with the children.”


Some foods arrive prepped, but Schultz brings whole produce, so the children can see and process the food's origins.

“Then, she allows them and encourages them to use their senses — touch, smell, taste and everything,” Prather said.

“That is a wonderful thing that she does. Then in the afternoon, she sets up in our lobby and also introduces things to the parents as they come in to pick up whatever age group.”

Salad in a jar was a highlight.

“She had the jars, the ingredients, the vegetables for the children to take,” Prather said.

“They sat and made a salad in a jar to take home.”

This was the first time the program was presented at Bright Beginnings.

“It's been wonderful,” Prather said.

“I'm going to be sad when it ends because she has been just amazing with the children. The other thing she did too for us, she provided training for the teachers. We all participated with that. We have two more trainings to complete in all. It's all based around food, nutrition and fitness.”


Schultz brought in peppers and tomato plants, which the children planted in a raised bed garden in their play area.

“I had an idea to put in a garden this year with my group,” said Lynne Boyd, preschool lead teacher.

“I took advantage of the small, little cherry tomatoes. We got only one ripe tomato. So it's in the fridge and will be part of our snack this afternoon. Unfortunately, the squirrels ate our peppers. We had some really nice peppers, and a squirrel got to them. We will try again next year.”

Schultz lunched regularly with this second group.

“It was a really great program, fascinating,” Boyd said.

“We went apple picking last week, and I took a bag of apples. The next day, we decided to make applesauce. I cut up the apples. All the kids sat at the table. I gave them little slices of apples. They cut the apples. We put it all in a slow cooker and help put in all the ingredients. Then, we had a good smell-taste all day. That's what we had for a snack in the afternoon.”


“Eat Well, Play Hard” was a natural fit with the Y's values of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

“Healthy living is one of our three main focuses,” said Justin Ihne, executive director.

“It's so important that we integrate that in all of our child-care programs — healthy snacks, lots of activity and really teaching those skills at a young age.”

The obesity rates in New York state are very high.

“If you don't start at a young age, it just gets larger and larger,” he said.

“So, we're excited to have it.”

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Robin Caudell was born and raised on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She holds a BS in Journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She has worked at the Press-Republican since 1990