Day-Care Pioneer Is Really Cooking

Associated Press Writer

When Tina Mueller picks up her daughter at day care in the afternoon, she can also grab a gourmet takeout meal of roasted ginger pork loin, or perhaps burgundy beef stew or lemon-pepper chicken.

The Little Leprechaun Academy day-care center also offers free Starbucks coffee for parents, as well as a dry-cleaning drop-off service.

Nowadays, some day-care centers are literally catering to busy parents.

"It's great to know that you don't have to worry about preparing a meal or having to resort to fast food at the end of a hectic day," said Mueller, a morning traffic reporter whose 3-year-old daughter, Alana, attends the day-care center near Cincinnati. "And it leaves me more time to spend with my children."

T.J. Corcoran, who owns the Little Leprechaun center and another in the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester, began the takeout service 2 1/2 years ago after parents began complimenting the dishes he was serving to their children.

His centers also offer dance, martial arts and foreign-language classes for children. Beginning next month, he plans to have a hair stylist come in once a month to provide haircuts for the children.

About 280 children are enrolled at Corcoran's two day-care centers, where parents pay from $150 to $190 a week for full-time care.

"I was determined to provide something much healthier than the usual chicken nuggets or hot dogs," he said.

He hired chef Andy Jacobs, who had owned his own restaurant.

"I understood immediately what he was looking for," Jacobs said. "I love kids, and I find it a challenge to gear healthy food to children and their families and help educate them about nutrition. A lot of the parents tell me their kids are eating better here than they do at home."

Mark Ginsberg, executive director of the National Assn. for the Education of Young Children in Washington, said he expects more and more day-care centers around the country to offer services for the entire family.

"We believe there has to be a strong partnership between schools, child-care centers and parents," Ginsberg said. "Services like take-home meals are another step in creating one-stop shopping and would be a big help to families that are increasingly strapped for time in today's society."

On a recent afternoon at the Little Leprechaun, preschoolers dug into Cincinnati chili over pasta, cheese, mixed fruit and garlic bread.

Judy Hively, a teacher at the center, said the 5- and 6-year-olds in her class were reluctant at first to try anything that wasn't a chicken nugget or something else that looked familiar. "But I talked them into trying a bite or two, and then they realized they actually liked it," she said.

In addition to entrees such as Hungarian goulash and Sicilian chicken, meals include pasta, fresh fruit and vegetables and a variety of breads. Individual servings are priced about $5.50.

Julia Kurtz, whose 2 1/2-year-old son, Conrad, attends the day-care center, said the food is better that anything she could pick up in most restaurants.

"It's unbelievable," she said. "They use fresh ingredients and offer nutritious dishes that my children really want to eat.

"During the school year, I have to work until late in the day and that doesn't leave me much time to prepare good meals," said Kurtz, 38, who teaches reading at an elementary school. "Now, at least two or three times a week, I can just pick up a complete meal that I can quickly warm up at home."

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