Kimchi and maple glazed carrots may not ordinarily be selections one would expect to find on a school lunch menu, but a new program at the Fletcher Elementary School is tantalizing the taste buds of students and helping them learn about the nutritional and economic value of local foods.
The Vermont Harvest of the Month program supports seasonal eating, healthy diets, and the local economy, by highlighting a different food at the school each month. In February, students learned about cabbage and sampled a variety of kimchi recipes. Earlier this week, maple syrup was spotlighted and students enjoyed maple glazed carrots. Each of the featured selections is purchased from a local grower, and presented to students by The Abbey Group, the school’s foodservice contractor, along with fun facts and nutritional information.
“The Harvest of the Month was designed to give fruits, vegetables and other local produce some exposure,” Abbey Group Executive Vice President and USDA Nutrition Specialist Scott Choiniere said. “The idea was to have restaurants, grocery stores, schools and other institutions promoting the same vegetable or fruit for the month.”
Fletcher Elementary is part of the Franklin West Supervisory Union, which has formed a cutting-edge committee known as the Whole-School, Community Child Committee. The group focuses on health education, nutrition environment and services, employee wellness, family engagement and community involvement. It is facilitated by Bonnie Poe, a long-time educator, and former Fletcher School principal. Tara McMahon, School Nurse, and Sandra Simmons, School Counselor, represent Fletcher on the committee.
Vermont Harvest of the Month is organized by three non-profit groups and offers free ready-to-use materials to classrooms, cafeterias and the community. The resources include printable posters, educational lesson plans, recipes and a suggested reading list that allow connections between classroom learning and tastings, which take place during students’ lunch period.
“Exposing students to new foods, foods found locally, and new recipes, offers opportunities to make choices about what to eat that will have a long-term impact on their health,” Poe said. “New food choices and new recipes can eliminate the boredom of eating the same things every day or week.”
According to Poe, the Vermont Harvest of the Month Program provides schools an opportunity to address standards from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a group founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation to combat childhood obesity and support children in sustaining lifelong, healthy habits. The Alliance encourages schools to offer three additional servings of vegetables per week, a different fruit every day, fresh fruit at least weekly, address cultural diversity through food, provide whole grains and to offer a legume-based food at least weekly.
“The program provides an opportunity for students to learn about their community and the impact it has on them now and in the long term,” Poe said. “It supports healthy decisions in the future and cam promote better school attendance, better grades, increased focus and more energy.”
“Harvest of the Month is important because we get to try new foods,” fifth-grader Ava Ardovino said. “The maple carrots were really good.”
“The benefit of this program is to learn new things about yourself like which foods you like and you don’t like. It’s better to look back and know you tried something than to say you wish you had tried it,” fifth-grader Hailey Zamuda said.
“You are never going to know if you like something or not until you try it,” fifth-grader Anna Villeneuve said.
Each month’s food selection is also featured on the school’s lunch and breakfast menu.
While the Vermont Harvest of the Month program is open to schools, restaurants, farms or businesses, starting this year individuals can take the pledge and participate from home. Participants are encouraged to submit their photos and taste test results on the group’s website.
Radishes, mixed greens, winter squash and sweet potato are among the foods to be featured in the coming months.
Read more about Harvest of the Month.