MADISON — It has kids urging their peers to “try it” and bringing healthy eating practices they learned in school home to their families. It’s the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), helping schools to offer healthy snacks to children.
For the 2016-17 school year, 190 public and private schools will share about $3.4 million in federal grant funding to provide more than 67,100 elementary students with snacks during the school day. The Department of Public Instruction evaluated 251 applications for Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grants made last spring, notifying 168 public schools and 22 private schools this summer that they were accepted for the program.
“To have kids telling their friends a particular fruit is ‘fabulous’ is just remarkable,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “We want children to be excited about good nutrition. Over the 10 years that Wisconsin has been a part of this program, its benefits extend way beyond encouraging kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. It supports healthy habits throughout the school and into the community.”
A survey of student preferences found carrots, cucumbers, and snap peas were the top three vegetables in the 2015-16 school year. Grapes, oranges, and strawberries topped the fruit list. In addition to these familiar favorites, students had a chance to try less familiar fruits and vegetables such as kohlrabi, kumquats, jicama, mangos, and pomegranates. One survey comment noted that “by encouraging students to try different fruits and vegetables, they learn not to eat with their eyes.” Another commended the program because students recognized what healthy snacks are and are now more aware of how healthy foods affect how their bodies feel.
The program’s impact extends beyond snack time and has inspired school gardens in several locations. Other schools reported healthier food choices for schoolwide and parent events, moving away from processed snacks and cookies. Still other schools are branching out to offer running or other fitness clubs for students, families, and school staff.
To be eligible, participating schools had 50 percent or more of their students receiving subsidized school meals or an equivalent rate for Community Eligibility Program sites. School applications also included a plan for integrating the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program with other efforts to promote sound health and nutrition. Each eligible school is projected to receive $50 per student for the school year based on school enrollment. With these funds, schools purchase additional fresh fruits and vegetables to serve free to students outside of the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast programs (SBP). Participating schools submit monthly claims to the Department of Public Instruction for reimbursement for fruits and vegetables as well as some limited non-food costs.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program began as a pilot in 2002 in just four states and the Zuni Tribal Organization in New Mexico. Wisconsin was part of the gradual expansion in 2006, and in 2008, the program was made permanent and available nationwide to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In the first year of the nationwide program (2008-09), total funding was $40 million. Funding rose to $177 million in the 2015-16 school year and is projected at $184.5 for 2016-17.
NOTES: A list of schools receiving Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grant awards is in the official news release. The 45 marked with an asterisk (*) were not in the program in the prior school year. Actual grant amounts may differ from these projections based on available funding provided by the USDA.