YCSD food service earns grant, expands healthy options

YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown City School District’s Food Services Department secured a $228,000 grant to expand students’ fruit and vegetable and plans a district-wide apple crunch next month.

“It’s to promote healthy eating,” said Sue Paris, chief of food service for YCSD, of the grant.

The Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program is a United States Department of Agriculture grant administered through the Ohio Department of Education. The aim is to provide more fresh fruit and vegetable options to students, including some less-familiar selections.

The district also will participate this year in the Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch with the Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County.

As part of National Farm to School Month, the extension service and the Youngstown City School District will highlight locally-grown apples Oct.11 with students, teachers and staff, taking a bite out of regionally or locally-grown apples.

“We are participating in this event because OSU Extension’s Ohio Farm to School program is the core partner for the National Farm to School Network,” said Amy Fovargue, youth wellness program coordinator, Ohio Farm to School, OSU Extension. “As a part of the network, we are involved in promoting the purchasing of apples from Ohio during the ‘Apple Crunch’ and every day. Purchasing local food for the schools is a win for the community, the cafeteria and the classroom.”

In October 2017, more than 1.5 million students, teachers and supporters in Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan participated in the apple crunch and organizers want to exceed that number this year. You can learn more by visiting the Great Lakes Apple Crunch Facebook page.

Tascin Brooks, YCSD food service coordinator, said that the food services department has used locally and regionally grown fruits and vegetables for the past seven years as a member of the local Lake to River Farmers Co-op.

Brooks and Paris, in collaboration with the Lake to River Co-op and Huffman Farms on Lisbon Road in Salem, said they are excited to be able to offer more than 5,000 fresh, locally grown apples to the staff and students of YCSD to celebrate Great Lakes Apple Crunch Day Oct. 11.

“The Great Lakes Apple Crunch is a fun way to emphasize local produce,” Brooks said. “I think students, teachers, administrators and staff will really enjoy it and of course it’s a great message about locally-grown apples. It also promotes healthy eating and healthy snacks.”

Fovargue said participation was strong across the state in 2017.

“Last year in Ohio alone there were more than 100,000 crunchers registered at more than 300 sites,” she said. “Event locations ranged from school cafeterias and Head Start centers to college dining halls and state agencies. The collective Crunch event supports local apple orchards, celebrates healthy eating, and connects rural and urban communities.”

Paris said the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program allows YCSD’s food service department to provide the healthy snacks three days per week and that includes selections some students have never tried.

Sometimes, those unfamiliar samplings are cut or prepared in a way to make them more appealing to children. Yellow squash cut into coins and carrots carved into spirals are some of those varieties.

But watermelon chunks, apple slices and grapes and blueberries remain favorites.

“Maybe a child will try a certain fruit or vegetable through this program that he or she has never tried before and decide it’s a new favorite,” Paris said.

Offering healthy options for school breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks fits in with Goal II of CEO Krish Mohip’s strategic plan for the district, “Supporting the Whole Child.”

He believes both initiatives promote nutrition and healthy eating.

“Nutrition is so important to a child’s health, but it also plays a role in that child’s learning,” he said. “If a student loads up on sugar earlier in the day, he or she is bound to crash later and feel tired and sluggish. That makes it harder to pay attention to what’s happening in class.”

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