Mangosteen, persimmon, romanesco and sea beans. Something available from your favorite eatery? Well, maybe. But these and other fruits and vegetables are part of a federal snack program in place in 112 elementary schools in Idaho.
Students in those schools can take a break from reading, writing and arithmetic to munch on snacks during the school day. And not during school lunch. The snacks come during the school day, but not at lunch.
Idaho is a participant in the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program (FFVP), a $163.5 million expenditure nationwide for the current fiscal year. Of that amount, $2 million goes to Idaho for the 112 schools participating. Schools with at least 50 percent of their students eligible for free and reduced-price meals can apply to participate in FFVP. Priority is given to the schools with the highest proportion of free and reduced-price eligible students.
If a school is selected to join the program, all students receive the snacks, not just the ones eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
The program, especially as it is administered to younger students, seems like it could be messy and possibly take away teaching time.
According to Melissa McGrath, communications director for the Idaho Department of Education, that’s not the case. She said that teachers in schools where the program is in place use it as part of their lesson plans, or they choose to give out the snacks during non-instructional times.
She also said that students, for the most part, enjoy trying new things. “Students have shown a great interest in trying new foods and providing feedback to their school and district about these new foods,” said McGrath. “Research and experience show that students who are exposed to a variety of fruits and vegetables will consume more fruit and vegetable servings on a daily basis. Also, schools have reported that students who participate in the FFVP are consuming more fruits and vegetables during breakfast and lunch.”
Younger kids, as is normally the case, are sometimes very picky about what they will or won’t eat, but the point of the program is to introduce them to new fruits and vegetables, according to Debbie Redmond, food service supervisor for the Vallivue School District.
“The whole idea is to introduce to kids to new fruits and vegetables, but we also want to be conscious of what the kids are going to eat so we don’t waste it. Unfortunately, some of it does get thrown away. We pretty much try to give the kids what we think they’ll eat so they don’t just throw it away,” said Redmond.
In addition to the fruits and vegetables most kids will consume—apples, oranges, carrots, peaches and peppers, for examples—the program encourages schools to expose kids to kiwi, star fruit, pomegranate, rutabaga, kohlrabi and other non-traditional snacks.
Redmond said that all teachers for schools in the program are required to teach nutritional education for the specific fruit or vegetable for that day. She says one school within her district has decided to teach the kids about the nutrition of the snacks by spending a few minutes on the intercom. “Really, one person could talk about it on the intercom and then it really isn’t any time for the teachers to have to teach the nutrition education.”
The money for the entire federal program comes from the 2008 Farm Bill, which mandated $1.2 billion in funding for the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program over a 10-year period.
At funding levels like that, with the state of the country’s economy and the debt it faces, is this program really needed?
McGrath said that was a job for members of Congress to decide. “Each year, the federal government must make critical decisions on which programs to fund or not fund now and in the future. This program has been successful in the schools that have selected to participate in Idaho, but if the funding does go away, we will still work to ensure Idaho students learn the importance of health, nutrition and how that benefits their learning.”