“Our farm to school program helps our district offer more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis,” said Julie Hamilton, school food service director of operations/training for Lamar County Schools in Purvis, Miss. “Being exposed to more choices, the young students will learn to like them and make healthier food choices over their lifetimes.”
Offering more fruits and vegetables to students is part of the new requirements recently passed by Congress to improve nutrition in the nation’s schools. Utilizing a farm to school approach – where locally sourced products are featured in the school cafeteria – is an effective way to make it easier to meet these new standards and help the students at the same time.
Some of the locally grown produce the Lamar County Schools purchase are apples, grapples, blood oranges, navel oranges, baby carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, spinach, romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes, pears, honeydew melons, pluots, nectarines and cabbage.
The school district is very creative in using this produce to develop healthy menus for their students. They offer a spinach salad with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese and bacon to make it irresistible. They also make available pre-made salads everyday that include romaine lettuce and baby carrots. Kiwi slices are used to garnish a serving of canned fruit.
Signature meals are offered daily with ingredients from the farm. On Monday – it is chicken Caesar with romaine lettuce. On Tuesday – Mandarin chicken salad with romaine lettuce, baby carrots and cherry tomatoes are served. On Wednesday — a veggie wrap is offered. The signature meal for Thursday is fruit and yogurt salad or fruit salad and a peanut butter sandwich. They end the week by offering chicken or tuna salad on a bed of fresh greens, tomato and broccoli.
The students’ favorites are grapples, kiwi, baby carrots and dip, blood oranges and all the signature meal choices.
Hamilton attributes their success in part to having participated in USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge. “It was not as difficult as we expected meeting the fruit and vegetable requirement because we were awarded the Gold Award in five schools and the Gold Award with distinction in six others. By achieving this award, we were meeting many of the standards for fruits and vegetables already.”
For more information on why offering locally sourced items is important and how USDA supports farm to school programs visit our web site at http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool.