Healthy Habits Start Early

Education–particularly early childhood education and development– has been identified as one of the key social determinants of health. Lunch at the Library provides opportunities for libraries to simultaneously help young children develop healthy eating habits and become lifelong library users by connecting library early childhood initiatives and the lunch service.

Libraries are at the forefront in helping young children develop the core skills they need to start and succeed in school and in life. Nutrition plays a vital role in supporting that success, including consistent access to healthy food to support healthy brain development, exposing young children to new foods and helping them learn how to make healthy choices. Similarly, literacy is crucial to health literacy and health outcomes. Connecting library early childhood programs and Lunch at the Library generates new opportunities to promote nutrition and physical activity among young children and their families while creating early learning opportunities at the lunch service.

Libraries Forging Connections

Beginning in 2018, California libraries piloted efforts to strengthen the connections between library early childhood programs and Lunch at the Library, with SNAP-Ed funding support from the Public Health Institute and California Department of Social Services. Download our Linking Early Learning and Nutrition for Young Children guide to learn more about these efforts and opportunities to build connections.

In this emerging space, libraries are bridging early childhood initiatives and programs with Lunch at the Library by:

  • Leveraging storytimes and programs for young children to promote nutrition and physical activity through nutrition-themed books or nutrition education activities (often provided by local health departments or other SNAP-Ed providers). Often these activities can be developed to promote STEM goals as well.
  • Promoting the lunch service to families participating in library programs for young children. Because the lunch service is a multi-age opportunity, it provides families with children of different ages something they can do together (although the lunch is only for children and teens).
  • Promoting library early childhood programs to families participating in the lunch program. Lunch at the Library often draws many new families to the library. The lunch service provides an opportunity to introduce new families to other library programs for children and families.
  • Creating early learning opportunities at the lunch service. Lunchtime can provide opportunities to build kindergarten readiness skills. In addition to providing a chance to practice social skills, libraries are utilizing the lunch service to help young children enhance their observation skills, practice sounding out letters, counting and recognizing shapes and colors. Even opportunities as simple as naming, describing or counting fruits and vegetables in the lunch can support children’s development.
  • Promoting caregiver engagement. The lunch service is a time to strengthen the bond between caregivers and their children. Library staff are using the lunchtime to create opportunities for caregivers to read to the their children or talk to them about food. Where is our food grown? What are our food traditions at home? Offering nutrition education activities alongside library programs for young children can also provide support for caregivers interested in learning how to keep their families healthy on a limited budget. Local health departments and USDA have a wealth of resources.

Download the Lunch at the Library: Linking Early Learning and Nutrition for Young Children guide .

Starting the Conversation between Caregivers & Children

The lunch service is an opportunity for caregivers to have conversations about food. It is an opportunity to talk about where their food comes from, cultural or family food traditions, the importance of nutrition and the role food plays in our lives. It is also an opportunity to practice kindergarten readiness skills. Tandem Early Learning has developed Conversation Starters for libraries interested in providing caregivers and their children with fun, age-appropriate conversation prompts that foster key kindergarten readiness skills through food-related conversations. In addition, the Conversation Starters include book suggestions to extend the conversation.

Download the Conversation Starters here.