COLUMBIA — Strange and exciting foods such as jicama, grapples and blood oranges are replacing typical snacks at Benton Elementary School.
This change is part of the Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program that provides healthy snacks for students during regular class time every school day but Tuesday.
Benton, which has been part the program since the 2009-10 school year, is one of four schools in the Columbia School District to participate in the program. Alpha Hart Lewis, Blue Ridge and West Boulevard also have the program.
The program is federally funded, and schools must reapply every year, according to Betty Buchheit, kitchen supervisor for the district.
“It’s just a matter of filling out the paperwork, and I think that generally happens in April or May, and then we’re usually notified of how many buildings are approved before school is out in May or early June,” Buchheit said.
When the program first started, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education notified school districts that the program was available and of the eligibility criteria.
The main requirement is that at the individual building sites, at least 50 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch.
The funding covers the cost of the fruits and vegetables, the cost of paper goods and additional staff needed to prepare and distribute the fruits and vegetables.
Columbia Public Schools Nutrition Services sends a calendar home with students every month with the scheduled fruits and vegetables for that month. Weekly, they send an informational sheet about the fruits and vegetables chosen for the week with each snack’s origin and interesting facts about it.
“Now, we offer a lot more fruits and vegetables at all of our schools, and I think in observing the students at those four schools, they’re more apt to pick up the kiwi because they’ve had it before,” Buchheit said.
Buchheit said the teachers also encourage students to try new things, which results in newfound love for healthy snacks — and sometimes newfound hate, she said.
“I hate zucchini,” said Aiva Reese, a first grader at Benton.
They may not like it, but they don’t have to eat the whole thing if they don’t want it, Buchheit said.