Danville district wins USDA grant to get more fruits, veggies in elementaries

Danville district wins USDA grant to get more fruits, veggies in elementaries

DANVILLE — Students at five Danville elementaries will get extra servings of fruits and veggies at school this year.

That's because the school district won a $77,650 grant to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

The program, established in 2008, makes produce available to students a minimum of two times per week during the school day — at times other than breakfast and lunch — at no cost to them or their families.

According to the USDA, eating colorful fresh fruits and vegetables as a snack provides more vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients for growing children and helps them develop healthful food habits.

While the Illinois State Board of Education is funneling the grant money to 247 schools in the state, Danville's Garfield, Liberty, Edison, Meade Park and Southwest were the only ones in Champaign, Douglas, Ford, Piatt and Vermilion counties selected to participate this year.

"It's a great way to expose students to fresh fruits and vegetables that they may not have tried before," said food service Director Sue Barnes, who applied for the grant in May.

"The more exposure they have to them, the more likely they'll be to eat them and hopefully try new fruits and vegetables on their own."

The program lets each district develop a delivery system that works best for them.

"We're going to make it a snack," Barnes said.

She added that she and Caitlin Kownacki, of the University of Illinois Extension's Vermilion County office, were scheduled to meet with the school principals Thursday to begin developing a plan for delivering the fruit and veggies in a nutritious and delicious way.

"We hope to roll it out soon," Barnes said.

In addition to apples, bananas and carrot sticks, "we want to choose things like butternut squash, kiwi and star fruit," she continued.

"We'll serve it up and let them sample it again and again until they're comfortable with it. Hopefully, they'll develop a taste for them and continue to eat them."

While the program is mainly geared toward students, Barnes said teachers and staff are encouraged to sample the fruits and veggies to model healthful eating habits.

"They may also find something they've never tried before that they like," she said.