The childcare centers Debbie Ellis owns in Greenwood, Miss., used to serve instant potatoes, chocolate pudding and fried food. Now she has a caterer prepare meals with whole grains and vegetables. And thanks to subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she’s actually saving money by offering her kids healthier fare. They don’t have as much fun eating it, she says, “but we do have good quality.”
There have been a lot of stories this year about the USDA’s new nutrition requirements for school lunches, which started to kick in this fall. But less attention has been paid to places like Mississippi – which has the highest rate of childhood poverty and childhood obesity in the U.S. – where efforts are underway to help kids form better eating habits before they even reach elementary school.