Fresh snack program expands in schools

Snack time gets a little juicier in three local schools beginning Aug. 24.

A healthy snack program, funded by the USDA, will provide more than $103,000 for the schools to offer a different fresh fruit or vegetable to students every day through May 25, 2010.

Montevallo Elementary School students first benefited from the program last year. Every day at 9 a.m. a student walked to the cafeteria and picked up their classroom’s white bucket of fruit.

“I had never tried blueberries or blackberries,” student Dalton Harris said last year as he grabbed a bucket.

This year, additional USDA funding will allow Shelby County Schools to expand the program to Elvin Hill and Vincent Elementary schools.

Child Nutrition Coordinator Maureen Alexander said the program aims to help educate students about fresh fruits and vegetables, including how they are grown and the benefits of choosing them as snacks.

“Essentially, these children are forming their lifelong eating habits. We want to be able to expose them to things they don’t see at home,” Alexander said.

Alexander hopes to introduce the kids to items like kiwi, blood oranges and star fruit, as well as broccoli, carrots and cauliflower.

She said the schools ask parents not to send a snack so kids pick up the fruits and veggies instead. She believes MES students and staff learned to enjoy new foods together. She hopes the same happens at Vincent and Elvin Hill.

Alexander said nutrition coordinators would work with the new schools to develop specialized bulletin boards and lessons about healthy eating.

Elvin Hill Principal Betsy Hillman can’t wait to see kids picking up boxes filled with fruit next Monday.

“I personally believe if you feel better, you are going to do a better job whether it’s at work or in school,” Hillman said. “We as adults have to take care of ourselves and set good examples for the kids.”

Hillman said Elvin Hill’s staff attempt to do so every day.

The school even has specific Wellness Wednesdays where teachers bring their tennis shoes and walk an extra lap around the track after lunch.

Nutrition coordinators also send home a “Nutrition Nuggets” newsletter to every elementary and intermediate school student each month.

“Alabama has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity,” Alexander said. “With this program, we are trying to change their eating habits and educate them about making better food choices.”

In addition to the USDA grant money, the Child Nutrition Program has also been awarded $43,320 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AARA). This money will be used to purchase a self–cook center for Vincent High School and a combi–oven for Montevallo Elementary.