It’s kind of a teaching moment because they can realize that the food that they eat doesn’t just come from the stores, but that care was taken to grow it and in some cases, it’s being grown within miles of their own school.

Incorporating Local Foods into the School Meals Program

The Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia incorporates local foods into school meals as a principal component of its Farm to School project. By using locally grown, fresh foods as a teaching tool, the teachers and staff show children the importance of eating healthful foods. Anne Ayella, the Community Relations and Assistant Director, shares her insights about the positive influence the local, fresh foods have had not only on meals in school, but at home as well.

With approximately 150 Catholic and charter schools in the greater Philadelphia area, this large system supplies 18,000 breakfast and lunch meals daily. Local food is included in all of these meals as much as possible. As Ayella notes, apples and Asian pears are particularly popular with the students. In late October, a day known as “Apple Crunch Day” is dedicated entirely to apples and their nutritional value. To prepare for this special day, each grade focuses on different aspects of the apple or the different types of apples. Students conduct research together and present all of their findings on Apple Crunch Day, when the results are put on display to help teach the rest of the school. “We get materials from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. So they have an apple marketing board and they send us multiple copies of some awesome resources that pretty much give lesson plans, great handouts and ideas for teachers to use in classes…They include posters, bookmarks; things that the kids can take home and hopefully share with the family.” Students thus become more familiar with apples by participating in many nutrition education activities centered on this staple of the typical American diet, and then they can take their newfound knowledge home to share with their families.

Ayella explains that an important part of the project is to find ways to continue this healthier diet at home as well. The Archdiocese feels it is crucial for families and the entire community to be aware that the schools are trying to improve children’s eating habits, and knowing that, to step forward to continue the effort at home.

Although incorporating local foods into school meals has been running very smoothly, the Archdiocese supplies meals for so many programs that it was a challenge to make sure they included each and every one. Responsible for providing 18,000 daily breakfasts and lunches during the school year, they also feed children in after-school programs that serve snacks and dinner and in childcare centers during the summer. With all sites included, the number of daily meals they are accountable for is sometimes as high as 35,000. However, despite this volume of basic service, Ayella says they have managed to ensure that each school, childcare center, and after-school program receives its share of local products. “Our system is such a large one. So, I guess I always feel like if we can make it work with a system as big as ours, then certainly a smaller school district should be able to make it work… It gives the kids a really great sense that their food is coming from a nearby location, and it kind of gives them a greater appreciation for the food that they’re about to eat.”

 

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How the Farm to School program is educational.

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Benefits of the Farm to School Program.

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Advice to others thinking of starting a Farm to School program.

Promising Practices