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Fruit and Veggie Tasting Prepares Students for Upcoming School Year

Ed. Note: This article is a cross post from USDA's Blog

Do you know what a Malanga is? What about a Chocolate Pepper? A group of students at Slater Jr. High School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island do -- they learned about these unusual vegetables and more during a fruit and vegetable taste testing at their Summer Food Service Program. For the less adventurous vegetable eater, a Malanga is a root vegetable that has a nutlike flavor and looks similar to a sweet potato when cut open. A Chocolate Pepper is a purple Bell Pepper.

The students who participate in this summer food program are nicknamed the “F&V Ambassadors” of their school. Along with this prestigious title, students get cool t-shirts and, most importantly, the responsibility of encouraging fellow students throughout the school year to make healthier decisions at lunchtime.

Fruit and Veggie Ambassadors

Fruit and Veggie Ambassadors sampling fresh fruit and vegetables at a Pawtucket Summer Food Service Program.

After a long brainstorming session, the students came up with several fun ways to get their peers excited about eating fruits and vegetables. These ideas included the fruit and veggie taste testing, a fruit and veggie eating contest, a cafeteria remodel, and creating rap songs about healthy eating that will be aired during the schools morning announcements.

Farmer Shelly Pezza, a special guest at the F&V tasting, is a local Rhode Island farmer that has contracted with the Pawtucket School District to deliver local fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the school year. As a part of the Farm to School program, Shelly attended the summer food program to educate the students about the benefits of eating local fruits and vegetables. In fact, the farm has just finished planting hundreds of heads of romaine lettuce specifically for Pawtucket Schools, which the students will get to enjoy in September! Learn about more Farm to School projects in your area by visiting the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass.

Students Try New Fruits and Vegetables

Penny Weaver, FNS Northeast Campaign and Partnership Coordinator encourages students to try new fruits and vegetables.

The students enthusiastically participated in a food trivia game, where the prizes included locally-grown corn and fresh fruit cups. After the games, the real fun began—the taste testing. Students filled their plates with heaps of fruits and vegetables and, after some encouragement, they all tried at least one new item.

This isn’t the first healthy initiative to happen in the Pawtucket School District. Solange Morrisette, Pawtucket School Food Service Director, has a passion for helping her students to discover healthy foods, which has spread throughout the district. Over the past two years, every school in the district was recognized as a part of the Healthier US School Challenge, a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. Due to Solange’s innovative ideas, the school district is already up to par with the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act mandates and is excited to continue involving students in healthy initiatives.

Rebecca Dresner is a Northeast Region Intern for Food and Nutrition Services at USDA