“It is fantastic,” said Jalen Davis while tasting the blood orange. It was citrus tasting day at Ettrick Elementary. Additonal comments from the fifth-grade students also included sweet, sour and even nasty. Caleb Hinchey also likes the blood orange and will try it again. “It was really good,” he said. Tasting the lemon was the favorite among the group.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program now in place at Ettrick Elementary School is offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Debbie Shiflett, the school division’s supervisor for food and nutrition services. For a school to be eligible, at least 50 percent of its students must receive free or reduced-cost lunches, she said; schools must reapply every year and the program is only offered to elementary schools.
Participating schools are allotted $60 to $65 per student per year to cover the cost of the necessary labor and equipment, and the fruits and veggies themselves, she said.
The program also provides teachers with educational materials about the fruits and vegetables, she said, and teachers can decide whether to make copies of the materials.
Along with Ettrick Elementary, Falling Creek, Bellwood, Chalkley and Bensley elementary schools have the program this year. A school district can have no more than five schools in the program, she said.
“We try to do different things as much as we can,” Shiflett said, and every student in the school, as well as its staff, gets to sample different fruits and vegetables four days a week. “The value is to be able to give students who normally wouldn’t be able to try different fruits and vegetables that opportunity.”
The schools are finding that, because of the program, students are taking more fruit and vegetable offerings during lunch, she said. “The kids have been really proactive,” she said, and are also encouraging their parents to buy the sampled fruits and veggies.
Ettrick Elementary Cafeteria supervisor Wanda Gardner said it was “interesting to see some of the items we’ve had,” such as fresh pineapple. “The kids did not even know what a pineapple looked like.”
Veggies and fruits sampled so far this year include star fruit, mango, ugli fruit, red banana and purple carrot, among a host of others, Shiflett said.
“We’re just trying to find everything and anything out there,” she said. More traditional offerings, such as oranges, apples, pears, bananas and tomatoes, among others, are also included, she said.
“I know in one of our schools star fruit was a really big hit,” she said. “That’s probably one they’d ask to have again.”
Cafeteria manager Denise King said students at Ettrick liked the ugli fruit.
“They really liked that and I was very surprised,” she said. “I guess they were surprised they liked it, because it looked so much like a grapefruit.” The students are all very excited about the program, she said.
“It definitely has brought a lot of excitement in the school for the staff,” Shiflett said. Gardner said she’s seen teachers make the tasting into a game to get reluctant students to at least try the day’s offering.
“I was just very surprised at the positive feedback [from the teachers], especially since it was added on to them,” Gardner said. The school’s administration has been very supportive of the program, as well, Shiflett said.
Though some of the fruits and veggies come pre-cut, many are prepared by the cafeteria staff. It takes time, but “they’ve got it now to where it’s just like clockwork,” Gardner said. Sometimes, the preparation requires some research.
“I learn things, too,” said Shiflett, who decides which fruits and veggies to order.
So far, the schools haven’t heard from students that they roundly dislike any one fruit or vegetable, she said.
“We might when we do the radishes this week,” she said.