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Two parents working full-time might find getting a healthy dinner on the table a challenge. But Kurt Festge is succeeding with the help of the new “Rainbow In My Tummy Family Cookbook.”

Festge considers the recipes healthy, kid-friendly and a “safe bet,” according to his wife, Jennifer Van Lue. Their 4-year-old daughter Paige, a student in the Verner Center for Early Learning, is benefiting from healthy peer pressure - all her classmates are trying different healthy foods and learning to love them.

“I love the variety of foods Paige is trying,” Jennifer said, “and now we can prepare them at home with the new cookbook.”

Materials that the program that the cookbook is based upon have been purchased by childcare centers in 20 states, said Verner administrators, who expect the program’s popularity to grow.

Closer to home, great things are cooking at Verner. This summer, the childcare center’s trademarked nutrition-enrichment program, appropriately titled Rainbow In My Tummy for the use of many colorful fruits and vegetables, primarily benefited only childcare centers. Now through its new cookbook, the program is making its healthy and tasty recipes available to all.

Filled with healthy, quick recipes that call for minimal ingredients and little sugar, the cookbook has Jennifer’s affection. The snack and meal ideas she’s gotten from the cookbook are served to the children at Verner. Daughter Paige’s favorites are the turkey meatballs and pasta with beef bolognese. Jennifer’s favorite is the sweet potato hummus, served frequently at Verner.

“These foods are giving Paige a great foundation for healthy nutrition,” Jennifer said.

Located close to Warren Wilson College, Verner (formerly called Mountain Area Child and Family Center) created the Rainbow In My Tummy nutrition program in 2008. Providing the vision, training, tools, coaching and resources needed to change the food culture surrounding young children, it is now implemented in 14 childcare centers in Buncombe County and one in McDowell. Given how popular the program has been with childcare centers in other states, the center expects it to extend it far beyond the region.

Centers receive menus, recipes, food production and purchasing recommendations, as well as training, USDA compliance data and more. The program is based on widely accepted best practices, including recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Academy of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Head Start and the N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education.

The kitchen at Verner acts as a model kitchen center, inviting other centers to visit for training and best practices in food preparation. In the classroom, children have relaxed, family-style meals with adults who engage them in conversation.

Each center that Verner works with is starting from a different place nutritionally, holding a unique set of strengths and opportunities. “It has to work for them and at a pace that is doable,” said program director Bronwen McCormick. “What is most important is that as changes are made, they are ingrained into the food culture so

The cookbook is available on Amazon ($19.95, plus shipping).

Supporting Verner in its development of the program have been organizations such as Mission Health Community Benefit Program, United Way of Buncombe County and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

Verner has reached many significant milestones in its 14-year history. It has developed a high quality early childhood program that is recognized as a model.

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