SAN LUIS, Ariz. – Rainbow carrots and cauliflower. A stationary bike that turns fruits and vegetables into smoothies as it’s pedaled.
These are among the traveling exhibits in a program that seeks to promote better nutrition among elementary school students in San Luis by exposing them to healthy food options.
The farmer’s market program – launched by the Gadsden Elementary School District’s food services department in partnership with the district’s student meals provider, Southwest Food Service Excellence – is visiting campuses in the district this school year.
The program recently made its first stop at Arizona Desert Elementary School, where students took turns pedaling a blender bike and got to sample multi-colored fruits and vegetables, some in hues that not all of them had seen before.
“This program was done last year, but this is is the first presentation of it this year,” said Manuel Alvarado, the Gadsden district’s food services director. “Now it will be brought to all the schools to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables.”
The district is launching the program at a time when federal nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches are more stringent, he said, and Gadsden food program has to use creativity to persuade kids to eat food that meets those guidelines.
“We try to have a greater variety in breakfasts and lunches for the children, and wherever it’s possible, we use fresh ingredients, nothing processed,” Alvarado said.
On the recent visit to Arizona Desert, students in grades kindergarten through sixth heard a short talk by staff from the food services department about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, and got ideas about how they can be prepared to be more appealing to kids’ tastes. They also got to sample vegetables they may have have never seen, much less experienced, such as rainbow carrots and cauliflower, kiwi and sweet corn.
“Some are vegetables that the children know about, but are in colors they had never seen,” Alvarado said. “Others are varieties that are not common in this area. That helps to teach them about just some of the varieties of fruits and vegetables we can eat.”
The bike blender also was unveiled during the visit. As students pedaled the stationary bike, they turned blender blades that, in turn, liquified fruits and vegetables as smoothies. In so doing, they also got a lesson about the value of physical exercise.
Arizona Desert Principal Lizette Esparza, who also took a turn on the bike, said the Farmer’s Market program offers a new and fun approach for kids to learn the value of healthy eating and physical fitness.
In the future, said Alvarado, Gadsden food services programs hopes to offer healthy cooking classes to students’ parents, as a way to reinforce what the kids are learning in the Farmer’s Market program.
“We are not going to try to change the kind of dishes they make at home, but the idea is to help them make them more healthful, perhaps by changing the way they are prepared or by substituting ingredients,” he said. “An example is reducing salt and using more herbs for seasoning.