Tamia Watters doesn't eat peas. But her 5-year-old son, Jeremiah Burton, does.

Tamia Watters doesn't eat peas. But her 5-year-old son, Jeremiah Burton, does.

The youngster's daycare center encourages him to try new, healthy foods, which makes his mother very happy.

"When you don't eat it as a young child, your mind is closed to it," the Columbus mother said. "If you start young, you get used to it."

When Watters enrolled her children in Starting Point Learning Center, she did not realize that the Columbus facility focused on healthy eating and nutrition. It's an extra she really appreciates now.

A growing number of childcare providers have started paying attention to diet and exercise, said Betsy Loeb, a senior manager at Action for Child, a nonprofit agency that provides free information to parents about local childcare options.

A number of factors have prompted this trend, said Loeb: the growing number of children battling obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama's focus on healthy eating, and the federal programs that partially reimburse childcare providers for nutritious food.

At Starting Point, the children never even noticed when the center started serving healthier versions of milk and bread, said program coordinator Renee White-Bolding.

"We've had very positive response," she said. "They are liking the one-percent milk and the whole wheat bread."

White-Bolding agreed with Watters that exposing children to healthy foods when they are young will build good habits when they grow up. Her grandchildren who attended the center when they were young always ask for fresh fruits and vegetables, she said.

"They want the good stuff, and it comes from having the right (foods) at an early age," White-Bolding said.

Program coordinator Kye Mosley, whose children also attend the center, appreciates the attention to eating right. It makes her feel less guilty, Mosley said, when she is rushed after work and has to serve something a little less healthy.

Many working parents are in the same situation, Loeb said.

"At the end of the day, they don't have a lot of energy (for preparing) made-from-scratch meals," she said.

That's why her agency encourages daycare providers to serve healthy foods and include exercise and physical activity in their curricula.

Starting Point incorporates movement and exercise wherever possible, Mosley said. Teachers try to work in large-muscle activities during lessons and often take kids outside to play. Kids need to run around and move their bodies, she said.

"It burns off a lot of energy," Mosley said. "They love movement. It's pretty important to maintaining healthy weights."

The center also engages the children in other healthful activities: They brush their teeth regularly and learn how to give each other stress-reducing head and shoulder massages.

At Hebron Academy in Columbus, teachers often start the day with stretching activities or exercise, said director Paul Flemister.

The center tries to include messages about healthy living in its teachings, he said. They also introduce children to new and healthy foods.

"We make sure we let them know why we're focusing on it, Flemister said. "It's cause-and-effect. You grow up to be big and strong."

Parents who tour the center are excited about the attention given to healthy living, he said. Often they aren't aware that many centers make that a priority now, he added.

"They don't expect it as much as they could," Flemister said.