By Jennifer Maloney, Food Chain Manager, Crop Science, Bayer U.S.
Getting in the routine again for back-to-school takes time, and admittedly, my family is not quite there yet. I have been out of town for the last three days, and my husband left on a work trip this morning. Thus, it slipped my mind and my planning that I would be on my own today making breakfast, packing lunches, and getting the girls to school.
At 6 a.m., it’s too late to Amazon Fresh something over, and so on what also happens to be picture day, the girls’ lunches do not reflect my work to incorporate a balanced meal at school.
A healthy start
It’s not easy raising children (and promoting healthy eating!) in a home where both spouses work — or for that matter in a single parent setting, in a family on a tight budget, or any range of situations that occur in today’s world. Because of the time commitment, cost and perishability, many kids don’t get the fruits and vegetables that are an important part of a balanced diet.
U.S. children consume as much as half of their calories at school, which makes the school cafeteria “the largest restaurant in town” and the perfect place to learn about and practice healthy eating. That’s why I’m proud of the company where I work, Bayer, and its ongoing support of the United Fresh Start Foundation, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the United Fresh Produce Association. In 2019, Bayer provided $30,000 of support to two key United Fresh initiatives that are ensuring that school children across the United States have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The first program is the Foundation’s partnership in the national Salad Bars to Schools initiative, which donates salad bars to schools. Bayer has been a leading supporter of the salad bar program over the past three years, and this year we were happy to once again support the addition of four salad bars to schools in the Rosedale Union School District in Bakersfield, California.
The second initiative is a donation Bayer makes to the United Fresh Foundation’s Community Grants Program. This program offers grants to community-based organizations that are working to provide kids with access to fresh fruits and vegetables outside of the traditional school hours, for example after school, on the weekends, and during summer and winter breaks.
Sometimes this access is through in-kind donations of fruits and vegetables, such as a backpack program where kids are given food to take home on the weekends; sometimes it’s an equipment purchase, such as a refrigerator for an after-school site to store perishable fruits and veggies; and sometimes it is to support education initiatives such as teaching kids or bringing their parents in to talk about nutrition or how to cook with fresh fruits and vegetables.
A colorful presentation
Thirty years ago when I was growing up, I remember very well the school lunch line. My siblings and I got to do hot lunches once a week, which was a special treat. I grew up in the Central Valley of California — the heartland of fruits and vegetables — but availability of fruits and vegetables that we got in school was limited.
Today, some schools have the fantastic option of a fresh salad bar, offering up a multitude of fruits and vegetables. At our recent salad bar launch, I was surprised to see how adventurous the students were to fill their plates with an array of fruits and vegetables.
The salad bar offers a very colorful assortment of fruits and vegetables, and while I never remember eating salad when I was in elementary school, these children were eating salads with broccoli, different seeds, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and more.
That’s the key. Getting children to try fruits and vegetables and empowering them to make their own healthy choices. On that particular day at Patriot Elementary School, the salad bar included colorful carrots, which really wowed the kids. Bayer arranged a local grower from Grimmway Farms to speak to students and lead them in a taste test of four different colors of carrots — including orange, white, yellow and purple. The variety was new to the students and made them super-amped to try the different flavors.
Children like the colors and presentation — and I’m convinced if it’s available to them and tastes good, they will come back every time.
Everyone can try
There are all sorts of different hurdles that parents face when they’re trying to get their kids fruits and vegetables — and often the biggest challenge is just making sure they eat. For example, last week my daughters loved blueberries, and this week they won’t touch them. As a parent it can be frustrating to buy food that suddenly your kids won’t eat and it goes to waste unless you creatively find other ways to incorporate.
However, I think the more kids try fruits and vegetables and have a good experience, the more they’re apt to go for that first. That’s the great thing about the United Fresh Salad Bars to Schools and Community Grants Program. Whatever the reason a family might be having a hard time getting kids access to fruits and vegetables, these programs offer a great opportunity for children to gain exposure, learn about it, and then take that learning and desire to eat it back home.
So let’s hear it for United Fresh and fresh produce! And happy back-to-school and healthy eating to all students!
More fruit and veggie topics featuring Jennifer Maloney:
The Produce Moms® podcast — The New Face of Modern Agriculture with Jenny Maloney