In California, Wellness in the Schools has been working with existing government programs in order to get students the nutrients they need to learn and live better. Thanks to WITS Chef Cait Olesky and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, the students at Bahia Vista School have had a fun year celebrating Eating the Rainbow with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) is a reimbursement grant program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers at the federal level. At the state level, the California Department of Education Nutrition Services Division administers the FFVP and selects elementary schools to receive a year-long grant, July through the following June, to implement the program. The purpose of this federal assistance program is to provide an additional free fresh fruit or vegetable snack to students during the school day as a supplement to (and not part of) the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program, and to teach students about good nutrition. The FFVP also encourages grantees to develop partnerships at the state and local levels for support in implementing and operating the program.
This school year, San Rafael Food Service Director, Alan Downing, applied for and received this grant for Bahia Vista School, a K–5 school with about 650 students. Through the FFVP program, students are to get a fresh fruit or vegetable three times a week (two raw, one cooked) outside of the normal breakfast or lunch service. Downing engaged WITS to execute and provide educational programming, a key component of the grant. Chef Cait carved out time during recess to deliver the produce and the education.
WITS collaborated with the district on produce selection to create a monthly calendar of vegetable and fruit selections. Always selecting seasonal choices, we had great varieties such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, strawberries, citrus in the winter months, and cucumbers in the spring. We also digitally sent home a recap of what students had eaten that week every Friday with some nutrition information and a simple recipe for families to use at home.
When the program began in September, only a handful of curious students wandered over to the produce cart at recess — by May, hundreds of students lined up at the cart, making requests and proudly telling us their favorites. We were able to get everyone watermelon on the last day, and students were overjoyed!
Chef Cait shares, “we were also able to implement WITS BITS and cooking labs at Bahia Vista School, and we tracked our vegetable tastings. Students put a corresponding colored post-it note next to whatever color of the rainbow they had eaten. We filled up both sides, and every week the kids got excited about trying different colors of fruits and vegetables to complete the rainbow.”
WITS Chef Cait was so grateful to be at this school three times a week and to connect with the students and staff, who all inspired each other to try new things. Students would see Chef Cait down the hallway and run up to ask what would be served that day, or just to tell her that they had eaten blueberries or salad. Said Cait, “their favorites were any fruit and any tangy salad — we had kale with an avocado dressing that they could not get enough of!”
A greatest hit was with pink grapefruit. This community is no stranger to fruits — they love red watermelons, orange oranges, yellow mangoes, and the rainbow beyond. But grapefruit was definitely new! With some encouragement from Chef Cait, we had some converts, who gleefully added “pink” to the rainbow chart and added a big grapefruit smile to the recess yard.