EAST COUNTY — As 8-year-old Noe Flores looked at the mysterious yellow fruit in the display case, he needed some persuading.
He looked up at B.D. Gullett Elementary School Principal Kathy Hayes.
“That’s squash,” Hayes assured Flores. “It’s good for you, and it tastes really good.”
Taking her word for it, he placed it on his tray.
Last week, the Manatee County School District kicked off Fresh from Florida Fridays — its way of incorporating local produce into area schools.
Each week, the cafeteria staff at local schools will introduce a different fruit or vegetable for the children to try; the hope is that they will learn to eat healthier at home.
“Kids have never tried a lot of this stuff and maybe would never have,” said Joey TerMaat, Gullett’s cafeteria manager.
The squash earned mixed reviews from the second-graders. Although there were only a few takers at first, Hayes helped persuade students to try it.
The program, which parallels the USDA’s national Farm to School Program, is incorporated in schools in various states. Manatee County doesn’t fully participate in the USDA program, but it’s making an effort with the once-a-week program. Fresh produce is offered at lunch the other days of the week, but it’s brought in from other areas, Manatee County Schools Nutrition Specialist Skye Grundy said.
Grundy and other county staffers researched which fresh foods are grown in Florida.
U.S. Foods brings shipments to schools on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in preparation for Fresh Fridays.
To help inform students, B.D. Gullett Elementary posted signage Nov. 1 that introduced the squash and displayed the upcoming Florida treats.
Haile Middle School took a different approach to intriguing students with more nutritious lunch items.
Cafeteria Manager Erika Maloney and her team created a harvest table to liven up the lunchroom on Friday afternoons. Baskets filled with that week’s produce line the table — a technique Maloney believes has increased the number of students reaching for an apple, for example, when they may not have in the past.
Giving the children products they like, and that are good for them, are high on Maloney’s and TerMaat’s lists.
“Our goal is to get them to always try something new,” TerMaat said. “We’ll put tomatoes out and they’ll say, ‘Oh, yes. Tomatoes.’ They remember.”
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