The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) is a USDA grant-based program that offers funds to schools to provide students with fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the school day. The program began as a pilot program authorized by Congress in 2002, and was permanently authorized nationwide by the 2008 Farm Bill.
The goal of the program is to expose children to a variety of fruits and vegetables during the school day, and increase fruit and vegetable consumption. It can take several exposures to a particular food before a child will try the food. Therefore, consistent exposure to a variety of fruits and vegetables is essential in increasing children’s consumption of these healthful foods. The FFVP aims to help children establish healthful eating habits, and ultimately decrease childhood obesity rates.
Guidelines for Selection and Participation in FFVP
Schools wishing to participate in the program must apply each spring for the program through their State agency, and must meet the following criteria:
- Be an elementary school
- Have at least 50% of students eligible for free and reduced price meal benefits
- Participate in the National School Lunch Program
- Complete an annual FFVP application
Schools selected to participate in the program will receive a grant of $50-75 per student per year and are reimbursed with the grant funds for program costs (i.e., fresh fruits and vegetables, labor, and equipment).
Schools participating in the program can serve fruits and vegetables at any time and location during the school day as long as it is not during the school breakfast, lunch or any other federal child nutrition program. Schools must publicize the program within the school to ensure students, staff, and the community are aware of the availability of the fruits and vegetables.
Impacts of the FFVP
An evaluation conducted by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service has found positive impacts of the FFVP on student’s consumption of fruits and vegetables. In schools participating in FFVP, students consumed 0.32 cups (almost 1/3 cup) more fruits and vegetables than students in schools not participating in the program. Most of this increase is a direct result of the fruits and vegetables offered by the program. The program also had an indirect effect where students consumed more fruits and vegetables outside the school setting.
Improvements were also seen in the knowledge, attitude, and perception of fruits and vegetables for students in FFVP schools. These improvements include rating most fruits preferably, willingness to try new fruits and vegetables, and increased familiarity with different fruits and vegetables
In addition to the positive outcomes mentioned above, the program has the strong support of parents, school staff, and students. When asked about FFVP, 95% of these groups responded favorably to the program, and wanted the program to continue.
FFVP Best Practices
The best practices recommended to maximize the positive impacts of the FFVP are:
- Provide fruits and vegetables a minimum of twice a week
- Incorporate nutrition education into daily curriculum, preferably in conjunction with the program
- Use creative strategies to implement the program (for example, taste tests, kick off events, or reading groups)
- Develop an implementation/operational plan
- Develop a budget to track FFVP grant funds
- Establish partnerships with community organizations (for example, local grocers, health departments, or extension services)
The FFVP is a valuable addition to existing school nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program. Along with increasing student’s knowledge of and familiarity with fruits and vegetables, the program has also been demonstrated to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. The FFVP is an important tool for improving the eating habits of elementary school-aged children.
Amanda Mercer, Colorado Department of Education Office of School Nutrition
Katherine Greene, Cornell University