The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) recently honored the Fort Bend ISD Child Nutrition Department with the Best of the Bunch Award.
The department was recognized for its achievement in Commissioner Sid Miller’s 2016 Local Products Challenge, for successfully incorporating local ingredients from Texas in at least three meal components. Only 77 participating districts earned the distinction in 2016.
Child Nutrition was recognized specifically for its “Harvest of the Month” program, which focuses on educating the district’s elementary students about local vegetables and fruit. What began as a simple newsletter has now blossomed into a monthly celebration of a particular food item, including games, quizzes and trading cards. Staff also include recipe suggestions for students and parents to create together at home.
For instance, the Harvest of the Month item for March was cilantro, sourced by the district from the Texas Panhandle. Families and students learned what to look for when buying cilantro and in what ways it contributes to overall health. The department even created a monthly breakfast option featuring cilantro, the Southwest Breakfast Nachos.
“Overall, Fort Bend ISD Child Nutrition Department’s Harvest of the Month program has been a commitment to serving Texas produce in school meals as well as educating students about agriculture,” said Gail Stotler, Director of Child Nutrition. “Detailed aspects of Harvest of the Month have helped to establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime for Fort Bend ISD students.”
The Farm to School Initiatives, which is part of the Local Products Challenge, includes several ways for school districts to implement the commissioner’s push to include more local ingredients, among them gardening on school campuses and taking field trips to local farms, ranches and farmer’s markets.
These activities broaden students’ knowledge of different ingredients and where food comes from, and also positively influence their interest in eating more nutritiously.
Beyond the benefits for students, the activities also help local businesses. According to data from the National Farm to School Network, each $1 invested in Farm to School components creates an additional $2.16 for the local economy, and participating schools see an average increase of 9 percent in student meal participation.
“Teaching children about healthy lifestyles and the importance of agriculture by introducing them to nutritious, Texas-grown foods is a top priority at TDA,” Commissioner Miller said.
“When our school nutrition partners accepted our Local Products Challenge, they strengthened Texas agriculture and demonstrated their commitment to developing good nutritional habits for the young Texans they serve and their local communities.”