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Fresh fruits and veggies a hit among WDC Elementary kids and parents

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Photo provided WDC Elementary first-graders Lexi Pierce, Lucas Hinojos, Jasmyn Wood and Landon Blessing look forward to their afternoon fruit or veggie snack, like fresh asparagus. Students munch on it plain or with Ranch dressing.3 / 3

Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary started serving healthy snacks on March 9, as part of a grant the school was awarded. The grant totals $38,052 and is part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

When asked how he likes having fresh fruit and vegetables for an afternoon snack at school, first-grader Lucas Hinojos replied -- in between bites of fresh asparagus -- "I love it! Here, try some!"

Hinojos, along with his classmates, are enjoying fruits and vegetables like asparagus to fuel their young minds and bodies.

Sandie Rentz serves as Food Service Director at WDC Public Schools. She submitted the grant and is now coordinating the kickoff of the Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program (FFVP). Rentz said the FFVP is an important catalyst for change in our efforts to combat childhood obesity by helping children learn healthy eating habits.

"The FFVP has been successful in introducing school children to a variety of fruits and vegetables that they otherwise might not have the opportunity to sample," Rentz said.

WDC Elementary Principal, Louis Rutten, feels the program is a great nutritional asset to the students of the school.

"Students are asking me each day at lunch what the afternoon snack is going to be," Rutten said. "This opportunity for healthy snacks has been a big hit with kids and staff."

To be eligible for the FFVP grant, WDC Elementary needed to have more than 50 percent of its students on free or reduced-price meals. WDC Elementary is at 66 percent free and reduced lunches. They also had to partner with an entity that provides non-federal resources to assist in operating the program. Russ Davis Wholesale agreed to be that partner, providing a variety of fruits and vegetables, along with educational materials.

Gary Neu, president of Russ Davis Wholesale, said getting involved in FFVP was an easy choice to make.

"We think it's an excellent program for the students. We're excited to see the students eating fruits and vegetables and getting another source of nutrition."

One of the program's goals is to introduce one unique fruit or vegetable each week, exposing students to a wider variety of healthy choices.

"The idea is about trying it, not if you like it or you don't," Rentz said.

But the hope is that kids spread the word to one another and at home.

Snacks scheduled for the month of March, for example, include carrots, snap peas, asparagus, grapefruit, grapes, clementines, ugli fruit, blueberries, cantaloupe, pears, star fruit, bananas, pineapple and strawberries.

First-grade teacher Heidi Van Dyke says the students are not afraid to try the different fruits and veggies, like raw asparagus spears. Van Dyke picks up the fruit or veggies from the kitchen and brings them back to her classroom for an afternoon break.

"I think it helps that they see their peers trying it," Van Dyke said. "When one student says, 'This is good!' they tend to think so too."

Michelle Hinojos, mom to Lucas and two other elementary-age children, said adding another serving of fruits and vegetables to her children's diet is a wonderful idea.

"As a parent, you want your kids to eat healthy ... You try to do what you can. That's why I think it's great that the school is offering fruits and vegetables as an afternoon snack. I'm all for it!"