How many pounds of sweet potatoes does it take to feed children in fifteen Madison Metropolitan School District elementary schools? This weekend I learned the answer to this question firsthand: 750 pounds! When I saw what 750 pounds of sweet potatoes looks like, I was sure that would easily provide enough snacks for at least a week. Wrong. Those 750 pounds would provide a snack for just one day!
No, I’m not making a career change to work in elementary school lunch rooms (although changing what is served to children is a passion of mine). This weekend I helped with the REAP Food Group Farm to School Program. Every Sunday, a group of volunteers gathers at RP’s Pasta to clean, cut, and package enough local produce to provide a healthy snack to over 6,000 school children. This Sunday was no different; when I walked into RP’s, boxes of local sweet potatoes were stacked all around the kitchen, ready to be scrubbed, peeled, cut, and packaged. I plunged my hands into a sink overflowing with sweet potatoes and started scrubbing. While
doing so, I was able to talk to one of the program coordinators to learn more about the snack program. I found out that these fifteen schools get a fresh snack three times a week; one snack comes from REAP and the other two are either provided by parents or another program. The schools have to pay for the snack, but some schools are able to use the USDA-funded Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program Grant.
The REAP group brings the snacks to the schools each week and it’s up to the teachers to determine when they’ll have snack time. Before eating the snack, the students learn more about the produce from the “Snack Bite”, a handout that highlights where the food came from as well as the nutritional benefits of the food (here’s a sample handout for the sweet potatoes). Students are then able to dig in! Their favorite snacks tend to be carrots and red pepper strips.
I share this with you today because it was so refreshing to be part of something positive regarding children and school lunches. If you watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution special last spring, you know the challenges of getting nutritious foods in schools and just getting kids to eat healthy foods in general. While this doesn’t eliminate the soda machines in schools or the processed food that’s served to children each day, it does give children the opportunity to be introduced to and eat healthy foods. And for some children, this is their only source of real nutrition each day. If you’re interested in helping out or getting your children’s schools set up with a snack program, more information can be found on the REAP website. This is a very hot topic to me, so I’d love to talk more about this, especially if you have children in the MMSD.