FoodCorps Transforming Elementary School Children’s Experience with Fruits and Vegetables

Youth trying produce

School classrooms and lunchrooms in Georgia are providing educational lessons to improve student’s preference for and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Increasing students’ exposure to fruits and vegetables has been seen to improve students liking (Laureati, Bergamaschi, & Pagliarini, 2014) and consumption for these items (Evans et al., 2012).

Two schools in the Jackson County school district, that serve more than 600 elementary students, are working in collaboration with a FoodCorps service member to connect kids with fresh fruits and vegetables. The majority of students in the two schools participate in the free and reduced lunch program and have lower exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables at home (Bere, van Lenthe, Klepp, & Brug, 2008). Although current National School Lunch standards require students to have a fruit or vegetable on their lunch tray, many students neglect to consume those items. Fruits and vegetables are often the most commonly wasted items during school lunch (Smith & Cunningham-Sabo, 2014).

This partnership between FoodCorps and the Georgian school district nutrition program is having a positive impact on 30 elementary classrooms. The FoodCorps service member works directly with pre-k to 5th grade class teachers to schedule these educational nutrition lessons every other week. These lessons consist of combining activities that involve facts about fresh fruits and vegetable with math and science. All the lessons are planned in collaboration with classroom teachers while Georgia standards help to inform some of the lessons.

Some examples of the lessons include:
 Relating math lessons to cooking with fruits and vegetables
 Relating science principles to the work that is done in the school gardens
 Working in the cafeteria to conduct taste tastes
 Incorporating language arts through themed writing activities
 Integrating social studies by learning about food history
 Utilizing time in the garden to further physical activity

Students excitement for these lessons can be seen on their faces when the FoodCorps service member enters their classroom or cafeteria. Each lesson topic is changed to fit each grade level. Younger grades may have an interactive story time to teach them about the importance of bees while older grades may have an in class cooking lesson by making homemade honey sunflower seed butter to spread on fresh romaine lettuce leaves. No matter the grade, students are receiving a unique learning experience and developing healthy eating habits along the way.

What students learn in the classroom can help to foster healthier eating habits at home as students are often given take home recipes or informational sheets for each lesson. Students are encouraged to tell their parents about what they are learning and to try some of the activities at home with their parents or grandparents. Previous research has shown that weekly educational sessions involving fruit and vegetable taste tests, garden activities and materials sent home to parents can lead to increased consumption, preference and asking behavior at home for fruits and vegetables (Heim, Stang, & Ireland, 2009). Interventions during a child’s youth are important as habits developed at this time have been seen to persist into adulthood (Larson, Neumark-Sztainer, Hannan, & Story, 2007).

Through these weekly lessons, this school district in collaboration with FoodCorps, are using educational sessions in the classroom, school garden, and lunchroom to increase student’s exposure, preference, and knowledge of fresh fruits and vegetables. Check out some of their favorite memories in the photos!

Acknowledgement: Dr. Debra Morris, Jackson County School System (JCSS) Nutrition Director, Ileta Redmond, Farm to School Specialist and Melissa Gurevitch, FoodCorp Service Member at JCSS

Bere, E., van Lenthe, F., Klepp, K.-I., & Brug, J. (2008). Why do parents’ education level and income affect the amount of fruits and vegetables adolescents eat? The European Journal of Public Health, 18(6), 611-615.

Evans, A., Ranjit, N., Rutledge, R., Medina, J., Jennings, R., Smiley, A., . . . Hoelscher, D. (2012). Exposure to multiple components of a garden-based intervention for middle school students increases fruit and vegetable consumption. Health promotion practice, 13(5), 608-616.

Heim, S., Stang, J., & Ireland, M. (2009). A garden pilot project enhances fruit and vegetable consumption among children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(7), 1220-1226.

Larson, N. I., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P. J., & Story, M. (2007). Family meals during adolescence are associated with higher diet quality and healthful meal patterns during young adulthood. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(9), 1502-1510.

Laureati, M., Bergamaschi, V., & Pagliarini, E. (2014). School-based intervention with children. Peer-modeling, reward and repeated exposure reduce food neophobia and increase liking of fruits and vegetables. Appetite, 83, 26-32.

Smith, S. L., & Cunningham-Sabo, L. (2014). Food choice, plate waste and nutrient intake of elementary-and middle-school students participating in the US National School Lunch Program. Public health nutrition, 17(6), 1255-1263.


Dr. Janani Thapa, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, (corresponding author)

Allie Lindke, PhD Candidate/Dietetic Intern, University of Georgia

Garden table of contents
Garden taste test results