Eating Through the Alphabet for National Nutrition Month

Alright, I confess.  I am a bit of a “school foodie-geek”. I mean, it’s a good thing, right?  Considering that it’s my job to ensure that the 3000+ kids in the school district where I work are fed school meals that are delicious AND nutritious…

Just about a week ago, I was on vacation in Florida.  The sun was shining, the birds were singing, everything was green and lush.

 It was a school break week for us, and it was so great to “get out of dodge” after being slammed with over 50 inches of snow in just 10 days.  I have to admit, I didn’t want to come home.  I didn’t want to go back to work.  Coming home to several feet of snow on the ground was hard…. going back to work seemed even harder.  Not that I don’t love my job!  I LOVE my job and I’m incredibly passionate about feeding children.  Still… the winter doldrums had set in.   Suddenly though, I remembered that March was just around the corner.  Not only does March bring the promise of spring (even though the wind chill is currently 20 below as I type this), but our biggest school nutrition promotion of the year happens in March, and it lasts the entire month.  I had something to look forward to!

For years now, we celebrate National Nutrition Month by “Eating Our Way through the Alphabet”. The inspiration for our “Eat Your Way through the Alphabet” came from a book by Lois Ehlers that I liked to read to my daughter when she was little.

This beautifully illustrated book lists fruits & vegetables, A – Z, and I was inspired to plan a month on our school menus where we highlighted an A – Z array of fruits and veggies as a way to expose kids to a wide variety of healthy foods.  The month of March seemed to be the most appropriate month for this month long promotion, as March is also National Nutrition Month.  

Coming back from my Florida vacation, I didn’t have much time to wallow in my post-vacation pity party.  I had a month of fun fruits & veggies to plan, procure and promote!  Starting on March 1, our menu featured Arugula, Asparagus, Apples and Applesauce.    

By March 2, we were not only Eating Our Way through the Alphabet, but we were also celebrating Read Across America Day, and Dr. Seuss’s Birthday.  Our B menu featured Truffula Trees Broccoli, Bar-ba-loots Baked Beans, Birthday Blueberry Parfaits and Bananas.

Our A-Z fruits & veggies are promoted on the menu, on our digital signage, on posters, as well as through our social media channels – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  It may take kids a few days to catch on, but by the second week, they are all beginning to wonder… what will the E fruit or vegetable be? (Edamame) How about F? (Fear Factor Taste Test: Fresh Fennel) .  Throughout the month, kids will have an opportunity to sample some new foods such as jicama, kale, napa cabbage, quinoa, and zucchini, as well as some old favorites, such as grapes, strawberries and sweet potatoes. We know we’ve got a winner of an idea when parents stand up at school board meetings, thanking us for introducing their kids to a new food.  Often, the students go home talking about what they had at lunch, and then, because the kids have already eaten the food, parents feel more comfortable purchasing & serving that food at home.
Recently someone asked me what our School Nutrition Program is all about…. what 3 things encapsulated our mission.  I replied that we weigh everything by these 3 statements: 
1. We want to feed students delicious & nutritious food so that they are healthy & ready to learn.

2. We want the students to be excited and engaged in eating healthy, delicious food.
3. We want to inspire children and their families to eat healthy, nutritious food at school AND at home.
Reflecting back on my “3 statements”, I realized that this was why our “Eat Your Way through the Alphabet” promotion is our most successful promotion of the school year.  With this month long event, we are feeding kids healthy & delicious food.  We are getting them excited about trying new foods, by offering them on the menu, throughout the month, in a fun environment.   Finally, we are inspiring families to try new foods at home, by exposing children to new foods in the cafeteria environment and by posting recipes on our menus and online.  
We are heading into our second week of “Eat Your Way through the Alphabet”, and I’m excited!  Edamame, Fennel, Grapes, Hummus & Honey Dew…  It’s a great way to focus on nutrition throughout National Nutrition Month.  Last week, at our afternoon cooking club (not part of our Eat Your Way through the Alphabet promotion),  Chef Sam brought out some star fruit that the kids were going to be preparing.  One little boy commented, “Is that Star Fruit?  I have always wanted to taste Star Fruit, but never had the chance!”  

Well, Star Fruit has a new fan! He gave the fruit a thumbs up!  I wonder, by the end of March, how many other new fruits & vegetables he will give a thumbs up to?  We believe that Healthy Food Fuels Hungry Minds, and that we are Feeding the Future.  Happy National Nutrition Month!

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