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  • Maryam Cheraghi

Heart of Food with Care: Miren Algorri


Project Overview

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is an imperative but imperfect program. While it helps facilitate millions of nutritious meals and snacks served in child care settings each day, it fails to fully meet the needs of family child care educators and the children in their care. California’s child care system has a legacy of undervaluing and underpaying labor historically performed by Black, Latina, and immigrant women of color. Current policies limit reimbursement for family child care to only one of every four meals served each day to the young children in their care, unlike child care centers that receive reimbursement for 100% of the meals they serve or K-12 schools, where the reimbursement rate is even more. The program is only a partial reimbursement and does not cover the full cost of meals and snacks. The portion uncovered continues to grow with the rate of inflation, as reimbursement rates are not keeping up. With Your Stories: Heart of Food with Care, CACFP Roundtable aims to share stories that support policy changes that would increase reimbursement for healthy meals served in child care and to create a space where those who would be impacted by these policies can elevate their voice. We hope you see the strength care educators possess in caring for children and the challenges they face.

Written by Maryam Cheraghi

Maryam served as a legislative intern at CACFP Roundtable in 2023 and studied Psychology and Applied Development Psychology at UCLA. In addition to working at child care centers and researching child development, Maryam has a passion for supporting educators and children.


“To discriminate against the workforce and [is to] discriminat[e] against the children who these workforce is serving” -Miren Algorri

Here, we would like to introduce you to Miren Algorri, a family child care educator, and to her powerful message for policy-makers.


Note: Audio clips from Miren's interview are included and supplemented by quotes that were lightly edited for ease of reading. (Miren has shared pictures, which include some of the children in her care. We have covered their faces for privacy purposes.)


Meet Miren Algorri

Despite her busy schedule, Miren took time out of her day to speak with us on a Zoom interview. The day prior to this interview, I had the pleasure of listening to Miren speak at an online discussion on the importance of food programs.


Miren is a second-generation family child care educator who has been in the early care and education field for 31 years! She has been a licensed family child care educator for 26 years; prior to that, she was an assistant at her mother’s family child care.

Meal service

Miren runs a large licensed facility in Chula Vista, CA, where she cares for 14 children. One of her main responsibilities includes providing children with nutritious meals throughout the day. There are six opportunities for meals or snacks throughout the day, depending on when a child arrives and leaves (see Figure 1). Miren’s meal service routine, from shopping to cleaning up, is outlined in Figure 2.


It is also worth noting that Miren does not serve juice, mostly plain water that is occasionally infused, always serves fruits, and offers two vegetables for lunch and dinner. Listening to the care and effort Miren puts into planning and preparing nutrient-rich meals was admirable.

As reflected throughout Figure 2, meal times require team efforts, including the efforts of Miren, the primary educator, her assistants, and the children.


Proud Moments

Knowledge & Healthy lifestyles

Miren is proud that she helps build the children’s knowledge of nutrition and ultimately promotes a healthy lifestyle for the children.


She reflects on the children’s conversations about vegetable and fruit consumption stemming from the environment she has cultivated around healthy eating.





Miren argues that the knowledge that comes with eating healthy foods is invaluable as it influences children’s diets and lifestyles.


“We're changing children's lives. We're making sure these children do not become another number on a statistic when it comes to diabetes and blood pressure and fatty liver.”


Accordingly, CACFP-participating centers have helped lower the number of overweight and underweight children (5). Thereby, research further illustrates how the nutritional practices and environment Miren provides help promote better physical health in children. An incredible example of Miren's positive influence is demonstrated in a story she shares about anemic children who attend her care.


Food-insecure children are more likely to have iron-deficiency anemia, which can result in long-term negative consequences on children’s development and cognitive functioning (8). Consequently, Miren is helping reduce the risk of potential adverse developmental outcomes for children under her care.


Fostering connections

Parents showing interest in the meals she prepares are another source of pride for Miren. She believes that parents who ask for recipes and advice affirm their level of trust.


These interactions help strengthen relationships with parents and spread healthy recipes and meals among families. I believe fostering positive conversations around nutritious meals can promote healthy dietary habits not just at centers but across communities and future generations.


Expenses

However, the harsh realities of providing high-quality meals became evident when discussing the expenses. After paying for all of her other expenses (e.g., staff salaries), Miren pays for food using the Food Program reimbursements, her own profits, and the financial support of her husband.


“...in the past… it was close to $8,000 a year that I was paying out of my pocket to cover the difference between the reimbursement and the actual cost of food.”


Compared to K-12 schools and child care centers, which receive higher rates of reimbursement, Miren has to rely on two other means of support. During an analysis of her operating budget, Miren identified her top three largest business expenses as: (1) payroll, (2) her mortgage (the site of her home-based care), and (3) food.


Challenges

Affordability

Since the reimbursements do not cover 100% of the costs, Miren is forced to pull from her own wages to cover all the expenses.


“So what should be my wages that I bring home is subsidizing, the difference between the reimbursement and the actual cost of the food that we serve to the children”


The CACFP program provides additional resources on being “savvy shoppers”; however, the real issue is the high prices. Especially since the pandemic, Miren states that there has been an exponential increase in prices, which affects her ability to purchase high-quality foods. For example, she recalls one week spending $450 at Costco and the next week purchasing the same items but having to spend $600. Having to navigate the rising costs on a weekly basis can be challenging and stressful. However, having to navigate these expenses and knowing children and families depend on you for nourishment exacerbates the difficulty. Despite financial hardship, Miren is committed to providing the best quality food because she believes it is a necessity, not a luxury.



The well-being of educators and children

“If I am financially stressed, that affects my emotional and mental state of mind, which impacts the children directly, especially the children who have been exposed to trauma.“


Food insecurity has downstream effects on caregivers' mental health, their relationship with their children, and the children's emotional well-being. Food insecurity increases anxiety and stress in caregivers, who are, in turn, less likely to engage meaningfully with children, negatively affecting attachment quality (6). Further, in children, it is correlated to deficits in emotional development, including increased internalizing and externalizing problems (3).


Nevertheless, Miren provides healthy and organic meals without hesitation despite it being an inequitable and unjustifiable hardship for her.


Multicultural foods

Early culturally responsive experiences can enhance children's self-confidence and skills, build their understanding and appreciation of cultures, as well as improve their academic performance (2). Miren hopes to serve families the best that she can by honoring family values, recognizing their heritage, introducing culturally representative dishes, and promoting “multiculturalism” in her child care setting. However, with insufficient support and increased costs, it is not financially feasible.


Miren's source of motivation

In spite of all the challenges she faces, Miren's determination to continue her work is fuelled by the positive impact she has on families, communities, and the future of children. Miren's work contributes to the children’s health, which impacts the well-being of the families. Child care educators serve as a source of support for families, especially for parents.

The work Miren does is not only providing nourishment and a feeling of safety, love, and warmth that facilitates children’s immediate development and success but also impacts their level of preparedness for their life ahead.


“We are the workforce behind the workforce.”



Miren’s messages to policymakers: Nutrition is key

Miren discusses the cumulative impact and importance of early nourishment from an economic and societal well-being perspective.



Lack of proper nutrients at early child care centers can cause a domino effect resulting in long-lasting and severe consequences. In support of Miren’s argument, research suggests that undernourished children can fail to develop their cognitive, motor, and socioemotional abilities, which are important for academic success and economic growth (7). Early nourishment can play a crucial role in promoting economic growth and decreasing economic inequalities. For example, the 2017 Global Nutrition Report reveals that every $1 of investment in nutrition yields $16 because good nutrition helps boost cognitive and physical performance (4).


“These…children need to be seen, and these children need to be well taken care of so they can thrive.”


Increasing reimbursement through the CACFP would have a profound effect on family child care educators and every child that is learning, developing, and flourishing under their care. Miren is supporting children’s immediate well-being AND the well-being of our society, and the future well-being of our population.


Footnotes


(1) Ahnert, L., Pinquart, M., & Lamb, M. E. (2006). Security of Children’s Relationships with Nonparental Care Providers: A Meta-Analysis. Child Development, 77(3), 664–679. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3696553


(2) Durden, T., Escalante, E., & Blitch, K. (2014, September). Culture matters—Strategies to support young children’s social and cultural development. NebGuide G2241. University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.


(3) Fiese, B. H., Gundersen, C., Koester, B., & Washington, L. (2011). Household Food Insecurity: Serious Concerns for Child Development and commentaries. Social Policy Report, 25(3), 1-27.


(4) Global Nutrition Report. (2017). Nourishing the SDGs. https://globalnutritionreport.org/documents/822/Global_Nutrition_Report_2017.pdf


(5) Korenman, S., Abner, K. S., Kaestner, R., & Gordon, R. A. (2013). The Child and Adult Care Food Program and the nutrition of preschoolers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 325-336.


(6) Perez-Escamilla, R. & Pinheiro de Toledo Vianna, R. (2012). Food insecurity and the behavioral and intellectual development of children: A review of the evidence. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for children at Risk, 3(1)


(7) Prado, E. L., & Dewey, K. G. (2014). Nutrition and brain development in early life. Nutrition Reviews, 72(4), 267–284. https://doi.org/10.1111/nure.12102


(8) Skalicky A, Meyers AF, Adams WG, Yang Z, Cook JT, Frank DA. Child food insecurity and iron deficiency anemia in low-income infants and toddlers in the United States. Matern Child Health J. 2006 Mar;10(2):177-85. doi: 10.1007/s10995-005-0036-0. PMID: 16328705.



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