KENTVILLE, NS - It isn’t all doom and gloom in Kings County cafeterias - there are many healthy food initiatives happening as well.
Dawn Hare is the Farm to School snack coordinator with the Annapolis Valley Farm to School Committee, which provides students with access to local fruits and vegetables.
The Farm to School Snack program is a monthly program that provides all students in participating schools with a free, locally grown fruit or vegetable snack purchased at fair-market value from farms predominantly in the Annapolis Valley. Each snack is accompanied by an information sheet detailing where the produce was grown and a few interesting facts about it.
Hare says with the help of dedicated and enthusiastic parent and community volunteers, the current program is running in 10 schools, including KCA, Gaspereau, Coldbrook, Glooscap, Aldershot, Berwick, Dwight Ross, New Minas, Annapolis East and Brooklyn.
Hare is also involved with is the Nourish Your Roots food boxes. Schools sell fresh, local produce boxes before Christmas and Thanksgiving, with funds raised supporting healthy food-related activities within the school.
Hare says she knows of several other healthy food related initiatives happening locally in our schools. Some schools provide free fruit baskets throughout the school or in classrooms. KCA extends the Farm to School snack to other school events, like giving away healthy snacks at its spring fling and making rainbow fruit and vegetable kebabs for Pride Week. Dr. Arthur Hines in Summerville, for example, has incredible school gardens. Gaspereau Valley Elementary does taste tasting with students to help develop cafeteria menu items for healthy soups and salads and there are student cooking programs creating crock pot meals. At Falmouth and District School, students as young as Primary helped themselves to a buffet of locally-roasted meats, bread and vegetables.
Some schools provide school-wide meals with their school garden produce. FarmWorks director Jenny Osburn started one such initiative at Berwick and District School, where she started a salad bar.
In early June, the school offered free days for all students to try the salad bar, and so far, Osburn says it's been really fun. Even better? The setting has encouraged kids to give new foods a try.
Her favourite comment was, "This is the first time I've eaten green stuff!"
There is a lot of great research throughout North America that salad bars can have a very positive impact on lunch programs. Kids can help themselves from a variety of nutritious items, some which can even be sourced from their own school gardens, explains Osburn.
Hare gets the same reaction for students with the Farm to School snack program. She finds students are eager and excited to try new fruits and vegetables and she loves seeing positive peer pressure work its magic. Parents and teachers are surprised to see kids try and love raw veggies without a dip.
She recommends crinkle cutting vegetables like turnip, kohlrabi and celeriac, as they become an instant hit with students.
“It’s fantastic hearing feedback from students that they’ve tried something brand new and loved it and then having families asking where they can buy it,” says Hare.
Regardless of how it is done, Hare says that research shows increased exposure to fruits and vegetables can lead to improved student perceptions around healthy eating and ultimately, an increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Exposure, preferences and willingness to try fruits and vegetables are all indicators of future eating behaviour and food choices.
Both Hare and Osburn say there are many things that parents can do to help influence food choices in schools. They suggest starting by forming a nutrition committee at a school with other interested parents.
School-based nutrition committees, PTA and Home and School committees that support the snack program also provides strength and future sustainability to the programs, explains Hare. These committees have the opportunity to use the snack program as a stepping stone to other health promoting activities, to more fully engage the students, staff and families in the vision of Farm to School and to keep local, healthy produce on the agenda for other school initiatives and functions.