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Supporting the Healthy Growth of Our Children During National School Lunch Week

Schools across the country focus on offering healthier options and more variety for their students. The pilot program will bring fresh lettuce, apples, grapes, oranges, carrots, and blueberries to Michigan and Florida schools. (Photo by Tim Lauer, principal of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.)

Schools across the country focus on offering healthier options and more variety for their students. The pilot program will bring fresh lettuce, apples, grapes, oranges, carrots, and blueberries to Michigan and Florida schools. (Photo by Tim Lauer, principal of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.)

Fresh and healthy foods are the focus again as we celebrate National School Lunch Week.  The theme of this year’s celebration is “School Lunch – Let’s Grow Healthy,” and schools across the country are touting the many ways they are introducing fresh fruits and vegetables and healthier choices on their menus.

Here at the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), we are doing our part to support the healthy growth of our children by creating a new fresh fruit and vegetable pilot program. This program will send fresh lettuce, apples, grapes, oranges, carrots, and blueberries to schools in Michigan and Florida.

In the month since the program was announced, AMS has been meeting with schools, state agencies, and industry representatives to review and discuss the pilot process and timeline. We discussed program implementation issues such as food safety requirements and distribution models that allow local producers to supply food for the program. These meetings have been a positive and collaborative next step in the pilot program, and we’ll continue to keep you updated on the progress, lessons we learn along the way, and the results.

The fresh fruit and vegetable pilot program is a collaboration between USDA and Michigan and Florida schools. We initiated the pilot to increase the options available for schools to use their federal entitlement funds on fresh fruits and vegetables. Many have praised the sourcing option in this program that will give schools more options when selecting a source for their produce. Schools interested in using locally-grown produce can include geographic preferences to their contracts and encourage their distributors to purchase from local sources.

This pilot is another example of USDA’s commitment to providing children healthy foods and encouraging regular exercise. Through competitions such as the MyPlate Video Challenge, we pursue fun ways to add fresh fruits and vegetables into children’s diets. We also use the popular Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and the fresh sliced apple and carrot programs. Both of these programs place sliced produce in individual-sized bags, similar to what is offered at many fast food restaurants. All of these efforts mesh well with programs such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative that challenge students to stay active and eat nutritious foods.

Is your school already serving fresh produce and healthy options? AMS would like to see some of your school lunch favorites during National School Lunch Week. Send us a picture or a Tweet of your healthy school lunch to @USDA_AMS.

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