Dates, jicama sticks, mushrooms and more intermingled with more familiar fruits and vegetables to form a colorful array of fruits and vegetables for Monticello School Distirct elementary students to explore at an A-Z Sample Bar in last week’s lunchrooms.
The Monticello district began a policy of unlimited fruits and vegetables for students this year, and last week they took another step to help get kids excited about eating healthy foods by offering the sample bar at the elementary schools Wednesday and Thursday.
Food service director Joe Happe and his team came up with a fruit or vegetable beginning with each letter of the alphabet-giving some poetic license for the tricky letters like “eXtra sour limes”-and each child could choose three items from the lineup. “We’re trying to loosen their palates a bit and expose them to some new and exciting food options,” Happe said.
Besides some of the more common kid favorites like watermelon, blueberries, strawberries and corn, the students could also sample things like Queen Anne cherries, mint, radishes, olives, ugli fruit, kale and figs.
Staff member Beth Walter said she was surprised by the popularity of olives as a selection and also said many kids wanted to be daring and see if the limes lived up to the sour hype.
Monticello may score some creativity points for their sample bar idea, but they certainly aren’t alone in their push for healthier options.
School districts around the nation have increased their focus on school lunch programs in the past couple years because of first lady Michelle Obama’s special attention to the issue.
She championed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which aims to target childhood obesity in part through tweaking nutrition requirements for school breakfast and lunch offerings, and it has caused ripples of change around the nation’s schools as districts keep up with changing standards.
Lunch staff gave some gentle encouragement to try some of the more unusual offerings during the sample bar days, and many kids jumped at the challenge.
One child requested B, E and W, without knowing what those foods would be. Another intrepid eater, second grader Ezra Brouwer, went to his seat feeling less than certain about what food he was bringing with him but ready to try it anyway.
“I don’t know what any of this even is!” he said with a smile.
Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.