McLean County elementary schools will be seeing carts of fresh fruit and vegetables in their halls when the academic year begins.

A grant provided through the USDA’s fresh fruit and vegetable program encourages students to try new foods in an effort to combat childhood obesity by introducing elementary students to a variety of produce they may not otherwise have an opportunity to sample.

McLean County Public Schools Food Service Director Melody Chelstrom said the produce will be served outside of the breakfast and lunch programs.

“The funds from the grant cannot be used as part of the national school breakfast or lunch programs,” she said. “We requested to be able to purchase carts for all of the elementary schools to be placed in different areas of the school.”

Food services will purchase ready-to-eat produce to place in the cart to be accessible to children throughout the school day, such as apples, oranges, bananas, diced peppers, cut up broccoli and pineapple chunks.

The produce can be purchased from local farmers.

“We’re working on finding more community supporters,” Chelstrom said. “I use a local farmer to purchase lettuce for the lunches and I’m working on getting contracts to purchase other items.”

Chelstrom said the grant requires farmers to be Kentucky Proud members to purchase food for the carts. Produce from farmers in surrounding counties can be used with this grant as well.

This is the first time McLean County schools have received this grant, but Chelstrom said she applied for it twice before.

“The grant is only available to elementary schools and you qualify based on the free and reduced lunch numbers, which have to be 50% or greater,” she said.

The schools will receive $50 t0 $75 per student with the maximum amount for all the schools combined being $46,575.

“I suspect we were selected this year since the potential for impact to all students through the multiple carts has a greater significance than the idea presented when I previously applied,” Chelstrom said.

Chelstrom said heightened access compounded with lessening the strain to parents and families in providing fresh produce has the potential be a game-changer for the district.

The schools should begin seeing the carts within the first week of school. The grant is a 10-month program and the minimum participation requirement is to offer fresh produce two days per week.

“The entire district is excited to see this program implemented,” Chelstrom said. “Hopefully it will increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, help families offset the cost of daily snacks and make a difference in children’s diets to impact their present and future health.”

Chelstrom said they will also offer nutrition education and hope to provide that through coloring pages, worksheets and learning activities.

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