Parents can attest to how much food their children can eat. But instead of chips and other junk food, a growing group of Chatham-Kent kids are mowing through fruits and vegetables at school each day.
And they aren’t just grazing, but rather are eating an estimated 4,000 lbs. of apples, peppers, grape tomatoes and other locally grown healthy options.
It’s part of the Farm to School program where students at 16 schools in Chatham-Kent have access to in-class healthy snacks.
Last year, the Farm to School pilot project reached eight local schools. This year, it expanded to 16. The program will reach an estimated 3,600 students. It began in mid-February and runs until early June.
Where parents may have difficulties getting their kids to eat their vegetables at the dinner table, it appears the nutrition is making inroads, as reports have some kids coming home and asking parents to change their purchasing habits at the grocery store to include more fruit or vegetables.
“I know of where one boy went home and asked his mother to buy pears,” Elaine Lewis, co-ordinator of the Student Nutrition Program. “She said she bought them before but he didn’t like them. But he told her he liked the golden pears, not the green ones.”
Lewis said the difference is the pears the boy liked were grown here in Chatham-Kent rather than the ones plucked off the tree before they are ripe, and shipped here.
The program is sponsored by the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit and the Victoria Order of Nurses of Windsor-Essex.
Local farmers provide the vegetables and fruit for participating schools. The product is purchased through grant funding; schools don’t have to pay for the food, or the delivery.
“We are able to purchase fruits and vegetables right from the farm and deliver to the schools so kids can have more fruits and vegetables,” Lewis said. “The program is open to every child in the school. We’re trying to make it as unobtrusive as possible.”
Lewis said the healthy snacks help balance students’ diets, and help them to learn.
“To get the best possible out of their educations, they do need good nutrition,” she said.
Khuen-Dte Jung, a student at Monsignor Uyen Catholic School in Chatham, said he likes pretty much everything that comes into the school through the program.
“If you’re going to put some out, I’ll eat it,” he said.
Cora Vince, also a Uyen student, said she really likes the dehydrated apple chips, as well as the fresh-sliced peppers.
“It’s always sliced and ready to go,” she said. “When you’re hungry, you can get some and not wait for lunch.”
Both students say they eat less junk food as a result.
The students and farmers benefit from the program, organizers say, as the kids eat a better-balanced diet, while the farmers begin to develop an increased local interest in their products.
“Farm to School programs supports better relationships between local farmers and youth. This relationship encourages life-long healthy eating habits and supports local economies,” Jillian McCallum, food and logistics co-ordinator for the Ontario Student Nutrition Program, said in a media release.