Maumee Elementary Students Experience A Rainbow Of Foods

Third-graders (from left) back row, Elias Ellison, Gabe Leck-Collins and Vale Taylor; and front row, Austin Senayah and Evelyn Ramsey taste some yellow fruits and vegetables as part of Eat a Rainbow Week. MIRROR PHOTO BY KRISTI FISH

BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — It was an explosion of colorful foods at Maumee elementary schools last week.

Eat a Rainbow Week, a first-time initiative for the district’s food service department, was started to encourage young students to try new fruits and vegetables and teach them what naturally occurring colors mean in foods.

Food service supervisor Michelle Van Dusen and the rest of her department spoke with kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers at Maumee City Schools to coordinate the efforts in the cafeteria with those in the classroom.

“In the cafeteria is a list of the foods with the colors and what the benefits are in eating these fruits and vegetables,” Van Dusen explained.

In the cafeteria, students spoke with the food service staff about the different foods they tried and provided feedback on new favorites.

It’s a different approach than the schools can usually take for student lunches. Providing samples and offering such a wide variety to the kids every day would be economically unsustainable. 

Typically, the food service department offers kindergarten through fifth-grade students two main options, along with fresh and cupped fruit and fresh and cooked vegetables. The students must then have three of the five food groups on their trays.

The department hopes students will see their classmates trying something and enjoying it and it will encourage them to try it next time, but a week of fruit and vegetable samples can allow those students to try something new without committing to a whole serving or requiring the district to purchasing large quantities of food that could go to waste.

“Hopefully, with the results of Rainbow Week, I will see what new fresh fruits and vegetables we can add to our menu,” Van Dusen said.

Students tried a variety of foods with red bell peppers, tomatoes, red apples and watermelon on Monday. The watermelon was the favorite among the students.

On Tuesday, they could select mandarin oranges, orange slices, carrots and orange bell peppers. Wednesday was bananas, pineapple and yellow bell peppers.

Thursday was green grapes, a kiwi slushy, cucumbers, celery and broccoli.

Friday had samples of blueberries, purple grapes and purple cauliflower.

“Introducing new items is interesting. Some work and some do not,” Van Dusen said. “The students let you know if it is a hit or not.”

The students, Dusen said, have been very excited to try new foods and learn more about their important roles in the body.

While teachers are encouraged to talk more about it in the classroom, Van Dusen said the food service staff members were happy to open the dialogue in the lunchroom, too.

It’s been going well so far, Van Dusen said, and she hopes to continue finding ways to introduce new items for students and taking their suggestions under consideration.

She’s even received letters from some students who have asked for broccoli and other foods and aims to include requested items in future menus. Van Dusen is also hoping to bring more fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than cooked or packaged, to the kids whenever possible, so figuring out what they like is paramount.

It can be difficult, though, as there are guidelines that must be followed and the planning of meals takes significant effort.

The district follows the National School Lunch Program, along with USDA guidelines, when planning the menu for its students.

This year, there have been new changes in sodium restrictions, which can create challenges when selecting items for the menu. As this is Van Dusen’s first year as supervisor, she’s happy to learn from the guidelines and the students on what they want in their lunches. She also hopes to continue to expand the menu, along with the young students’ palates.

“Our goal is to serve the students good, nutritious food every day, in a friendly atmosphere,” Van Dusen said.”

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