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September 20, 2012
By Kayla Johnson
Students at 34 Washoe County elementary schools began receiving fresh produce and nutrition education this month as part of a Washoe County School District program that partners with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provide thousands of students with fresh fruits and vegetables while teaching them the importance of good nutrition. The nutrition education component is provided jointly by Cooperative Extension and ARAMARK Education.
The program encourages students to adopt healthier eating habits by providing federally funded fresh produce and nutrition education fact sheets. Schools are eligible for the program if over half of student enrollment received free or reduced-price meals, an indicator of low-income status. The education piece provided by Cooperative Extension is funded by SNAP-Ed, the education component of USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
UNCE Nutrition Specialist Kerry Seymour said the program also takes aim at childhood obesity. According to Seymour, approximately 34 percent of youth in Washoe County are overweight or obese.
ARAMARK Education, which provides food services for the district, provides the fresh produce to encourage students to explore healthy eating habits. The food is served outside of school meals and teaches that it is OK for kids to enjoy fruits and vegetables as snacks, Seymour said.
"The beauty of the program is the weekly exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables," Seymour said. "It promotes willingness to try different foods and shapes food preferences. The younger you can introduce fresh fruits and vegetables to a child, the better."
Students not only eat the foods but are also taught about the foods they eat. UNCE provides weekly emailed flyers about the specific produce being served which teachers can use as take-home handouts for the students' parents. Nutrient composition of the produce is also provided along with educational resource links for teachers interested in building on the information.
"The fruits and vegetables are great ways to tie in other subjects - such as geography and science - that help meet the educational standards," said Joe Dibble, UNCE project dietitian. "When kids know what they are eating, where it comes from and how it grows, they are more likely to accept it and enjoy it."
Teachers and staff are also encouraged to participate in the program with students by sharing the nutrition information and sampling the produce offered.
"It is a school-wide experience, for all students and teachers. Seeing their teacher eating and enjoying fresh food sends a powerful message to the kids," Seymour said.
The partnership has enabled the 4-year-old, $2 million program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 20,000 students.