Parents everywhere struggle to get their kids to eat fruits and veggies. Some regularly serve leafy greens only to be greeted by a great big “Yuck!” Others can’t afford to buy fresh produce for their families. When school starts next week, students at four Meriden elementary schools will take part in a program that addresses both problems—the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program (FFVP). Piloted at Roger Sherman Elementary last year, FFVP had children there relishing radishes—and lots of other surprising produce as well.
“I never thought I’d see the day when the majority of my students happily tried radishes, snap peas and/or broccoli, and not only tried them, but ate them with gusto,” said Meg Rarey, who teaches preschool at Roger Sherman.
Thanks to a $124,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Roger Sherman will be joined by Casimir Pulaski, John Barry, and Israel Putnam schools in offering the program for the 2011–12 school year. FFVP gives fresh fruit and vegetables to children outside of meal times every day during the school year.
FFVP grants, available only to elementary schools, provide healthy food to kids whose families can least afford to provide it themselves. Schools are chosen based on the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced-price meals. In seven of Meriden’s eight elementary schools, at least 50% of students qualify for free/reduced-price meals, according to Susan Maffé, Food Services Manager for the Meriden Public Schools.
This year, the federal government is spending more than $150 million on the program nationally. About 2.5 million of those dollars will come to Connecticut. The goal of the program, sponsored by the USDA and run by the Connecticut Department of Education, is to help children develop healthier eating habits by:
- Expanding the variety of fruits and vegetables children experience.
- Getting children to eat more fruit and vegetables.
“I felt like it opened their worlds to new fruits and vegetables that they had never tried before, and maybe not even seen,” said Kristin Wilson, third grade teacher at Roger Sherman. One parent was surprised when her child asked her to buy blood oranges at the grocery store, related preschool teacher Meg Rarey.
Schools can choose how they want to implement the FFVP, provided that they serve fresh fruits and vegetables at times other than traditional meals every school day throughout school year.
Last year, Roger Sherman started the program in preschool and kindergarten and gradually worked up the grades. The school asked parents not to send in a snack. Instead, children ate fresh fruit and veggies at snack time.
“I love getting fruit and vegetables every day. It has saved a lot of hassle, especially with the peanut allergy in my class,” said Kristin Fedora, first grade teacher at Roger Sherman.
Teachers are happy that their students get a healthy snack every day, but the program does have a few drawbacks, they related in their feedback to Roger Sherman Principal Louise Moss. Some of the snacks, such as pineapple, can be messy. Clean up takes longer, cutting into learning time. Also, leftovers sometimes get wasted when students are absent, teachers said. But overall, they felt the FFVP was well worth it, Maffé maintained.
This year, each school will implement the program differently. For instance, John Barry will serve fruits and vegetables for snack in pre-K through grade 3, the only grades that have a snack time. Israel Putnam, on the other hand, will give fresh produce to 4th and 5th graders at the end of each school day. Some of these children don’t get a lot to eat at home, Maffé explained, and the staff felt the extra boost will help tide them over.
“There’s not enough money to feed all kids every day,” Maffé said. But schools, like parents, are doing what they can to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables.