At schools that participate in the national Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, students eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
While those results might not be earth-shattering, they provide some validation for the 10-year-old U.S. Department of Agriculture program, which was designed to expose children from low-income families to a variety of fresh produce they might not otherwise eat. The goal is to turn students into lifelong consumers of the items, beginning with mentioning items they like at home and possibly convincing their parents to add them to grocery lists.
Schools with a high percentage of students enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch apply for Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grants, which they use to serve students fresh produce items several times a week—outside of breakfast and lunch. (Take a look at these students at a Maryland elementary school snacking on honeydew during class.)
The new analysis was ordered by Congress in 2008, when it became available to schools in all 50 states. It looked at about 4,700 students in 214 schools, some enrolled in the program, and others that also have a large percentage of low-income students but that do not participate.
Among the findings:
- Kids like fruit: Students at participating schools just ate more fruits and veggies than their peers at schools not using the program. In particular, they ate at a third of a cup of fruit more per day, and about a third of a cup more vegetables in a week. The snack didn't boost the students' calorie intake by much.
- They really like fruit: Most kids who were offered a fruit or veggie item actually took a sample and gave it a try: 85 percent took the fruit snack most or all of the time it was offered, as did 63 percent of students with vegetables. Nearly 100 percent of students tried the fruit snack, just as 84 percent of students did with vegetable snacks. And 60 percent of kids at the whole fruit snack. Veggies were a harder sell: a third of students at the whole vegetable snack.
- Students at Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program schools consumed more carbohydrates, beta carotene, vitamins A and C, and fiber than students at schools that don't participate.
- So-called FFVP schools offered nutrition education more frequently than schools not in the program—about 2 1/2 days of lessons, collectively, compared to about 2/3 of a single day.
More than 4,000 elementary schools participate in the program, which has an annual budget of $150 million—or nearly $1 billion each time the Farm Bill is renewed.
Schools that participate seem to love it. When some members of Congress pushed for allowing the fresh produce program to include frozen, dried, and canned versions, participants rallied against the proposal. And in the recent analysis of the program, nearly 100 percent of students said they want the program to stick around.