By EMMA OGUTU
Capital News Service
LANSING — The fruits of a national drive to promote healthy eating habits in children will soon be enjoyed in more Michigan schools.
Starting with the 2011-2012 school year, cafeterias will serve more fresh fruits and produce as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said the program will both provide a ready market for growers and relieve some of the stresses associated with food costs for many families.
The state will receive more than $4 million in federal funding for the 2011-2012 school year.
“The program teaches our kids how to eat healthy and keeps them nourished throughout the school day so they can focus on what’s important,” said Stabenow, who is chair of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
The program began on a trial basis in four states to determine the best practices for increasing fruit and fresh vegetable consumption in schools. It expanded nationwide in select low-income elementary schools.
It’s also intended to combat obesity in children.
Obesity among 6 to 11-year-olds increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to almost 20 percent in 2008 and rose to 18 percent from 5 percent among teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Michigan ranks 25th among the states in its child obesity rate with 30 percent either overweight or obese.
The state’s allocation comes from a national $158 million in assistance for state agencies.
Last year, 133 elementary schools in Michigan were picked on the basis of the number of children eligible for free and reduced-cost meals, said Howard Leikert, state supervisor for the School Nutrition Program in the Department of Education.
Patti Miller, food service director for the Sturgis Public Schools, said that although it’s too early to notice any changes in children’s weight, she’s observed a change in eating habits among the 900 participants in the district.
“At first the kids didn’t care about things like radishes and broccoli, but with time we are seeing less and less vegetables left over,” she said. “The program is certainly allowing the kids to try many vegetables that they’d never have liked and liking them.”
Miller gets her schools’ supplies from a Grand Rapids company, because of its “fair prices,” then applies for reimbursement from the Department of Education.
“This is a much better deal instead of parents having to bring snacks to school, which may not always be a better option for the kids,” she said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.