The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is changing the way children see fruits and vegetables in schools by offering a competitive fresh fruit and vegetable program grant that provides healthy snacks along with nutrition lessons.
Education Moves Away From Canned Peas
We teach our children from a young age that fruits and vegetables will make them tall and strong, yet, when they enter school, they are often only given two to three unappealing canned choices in the cafeteria. My daughter got in trouble at school at a young age for refusing to eat the canned peas that the cafeteria made and was not allowed to play at recess. Children should not be forced to eat nor be punished for not wanting to eat unhealthy canned foods that many adults refuse to eat.
The focus of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) is to bring free, fresh produce into the school for distribution to children. The FFVP shows children that fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy and tasty alternatives to snacks high in fat, sugar or salt.
For too many children, the produce they see in school might be their first exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables, and the only ones they see that day. The FFVP introduces school children to new and different fresh fruits and vegetables, like kiwi, starfruit, pomegranate, rutabaga and kohlrabi — a variety of produce that they otherwise might not have had the opportunity to sample.
Fruits and vegetables are good low‐calorie, low‐fat sources of:
The Lessons of Fresh Food
While the program is an effective and creative way of introducing fresh fruits and vegetables as healthy snack options, it also encourages schools to develop partnerships at the state and local level for support in implementing and operating the program (i.e. community food banks).
The goals of the FFVP are:
- Create healthier school environments by providing healthier food choices
- Expand the variety of fruits and vegetables children experience
- Increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption
- Make a difference in children’s diets to impact their present and future health.
Many schools within the program serve fruits and vegetables multiple times during the school day so students have more access to fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables may only be served during the school day outside of normal mealtimes (i.e. recess); this provides an opportunity to incorporate a nutrition lesson along with the service of produce.
Schools can offer the FFVP to children as part of nutrition education activities and through a variety of distribution methods, such as in:
- Free vending machines
The FFVP’s nutrition education component is critical to the program’s success. Providing nutrition education can help schools reach their goal of a healthier school environment by helping to combat childhood obesity and is a component of several important agency programs and initiatives. These include a school’s wellness policy, becoming a Team Nutrition School and meeting the HealthierUS School Challenge.
The program also sends a monthly newsletter to schools and families with great wellness tips, like this list from a May 2019 newsletter – 10 Keys to Health and Nutrition for Life:
- Learn more about the benefits of a healthy eating style.
- Focus on consuming foods and drinks that are nutrient-dense.
- Incorporate foods from all food groups on a regular basis to maintain variety.
- Aim to make healthy choices when eating away from home.
- Eat and drink the amount that’s right for you by watching your portion sizes.
- Be wary of complicated and over-restrictive fad diets or eating patterns.
- Practice food safety daily.
- Find ways to reduce food waste.
- Stay physically active by enjoying activities you love most days of the week.
- Turn to Registered Dietitian Nutritionists for trusted nutrition advice.
USDA accepts applications once per year — in the spring — for the upcoming school year. Schools must meet the following criteria in order to apply for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program:
- Participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Schools must comply with federal and state guidelines for operating the program.
- Be an elementary school. The definition of an elementary school is any school that serves lunch to students in grades Preschool through 8.
- Have 50 percent or more of its students eligible for free or reduced price meals. The highest priority is given to schools with the highest percentage of low-income students to the maximum extent practicable.
- Submit an application for each site that is interested in participating.
About the Author
Dr. Judy Riffle owns Santa Cruz Grants & Consulting, LLC, and has raised over 18 million dollars for various schools, school districts, and nonprofits. Funded and managed grants include school formula grants such as Title I, Title IV, IDEA Basic, and Title III LEP. Funded competitive grants include: McKinney-Vento Supplemental Education for Homeless Children & Youth, State Tutoring, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, school improvement, CA Community Colleges Basic Skills and Student Outcomes Transformation, New York Learning Technology, Arizona Pilot Program on School Emergency Readiness, USDA Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program, USDA Distance Learning & Telemedicine Program, Baptist Community Ministries, Safeway Foundation, Tucson Electric Power, Cox Charities, Del E. Webb Foundation, and Arizona Disabled Veteran Foundation. Dr. Riffle is a former teacher, education specialist, new teacher mentor, and administrator with degrees in special education, Deaf education, and educational leadership. Besides being a member of the Grant Professionals Association, she also serves as Vice-President for the Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce Foundation and has a special interest in school safety and mental health. Since December 2016, she has written monthly grant related articles for educationgrantshelp.com.
Learn more about other USDA school nutrition grants:
Read more about efforts to improve youth health: