The YMCA and McDowell Hospital are working together to provide after-school meals for children throughout the county.

On Tuesday, Jan. 2, McDowell Hospital’s catering staff prepared the first batch of nearly 200 meals for the YMCA of Western North Carolina’s eight after-school programs in McDowell County. The federally-funded, state-administered Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) will reimburse the YMCA of Western North Carolina for part of the cost of these meals. This funding allows the YMCA to contract with McDowell Hospital catering to prepare tasty and nutritious meals that local students would not otherwise have access to, according to a news release.

The now well-known paradox of nutrition in the United States is that food insecurity often looks like abundant calories: a 200-calorie bag of chips or a 180-calorie soda. It might be hard to believe that a child consuming these calorie-dense foods could experience food insecurity. However, when the nutritional content of those foods is low, the “empty” calories leave kids’ diets lacking in essential protein and fiber, as well as micronutrients, such as vitamins A and C.

In the 2016-2017 academic year, 78 percent percent of students in McDowell County were eligible for free and reduced price lunch, a figure well above the state average of 60 percent of students in North Carolina in the same year and 48 percent of students nationally in 2010-2011, according to the news release.

National school breakfast and lunch programs have helped with students getting the food they need, but often there is still a nutrition gap in the hours when students are away from school.

Now, participants in the YMCA’s McDowell County after-school programs receive another meal after school in addition to what they receive while attending school. CACFP’s nutrition standards ensure that the meals are full of healthy fuel for growing kids. Each meal must contain vegetable, fruit, whole-grain, milk, and meat or meat alternative components, according to the news release.

“Focused on supporting efforts to improve health in our community, we are pleased to partner with the YMCA of Western North Carolina to provide nutritious snacks to enhance the care provided in the YMCA After-School Programs,” says Hospital President Carol Wolfenbarger. “Most people might not picture an after-school meal program when they think of preventive health care, but the healthy habits McDowell Hospital and the YMCA of Western N.C. foster in meal program participants can change their diets, and overall health, for years to come.”

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