Eat your fruit and vegetables.
That's the message elementary school students in Livingston and Planada are getting, thanks to a federal grant administered by the state Department of Education.
Andres Zamora, Livingston Union School District superintendent, said this is the second year the district has gotten federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program funding. There's more to the program than just eating healthy.
"We will step it up a notch," Zamora said. "The focus this year is ensuring every student receives fresh fruit or vegetables daily. We are adding an educational component which talks about good nutrition."
Furthermore, Zamora said, the district is looking at revamping its cafeteria menu and offering training for cooks on healthier menu options.
Planada School District Superintendent Jose Gonzalez said about 525 elementary students are benefiting from fresh fruit and vegetables.
"We are making a districtwide effort to reduce the obesity rate as a way of establishing better eating habits," Gonzalez said. "Parents have welcomed the program. They (students) love it. This is empowering the community which doesn't have the same access to fresh fruits and vegetables."
Alejandro Okida, Planada School District food services director, said especially in a farming community, serving more healthy meals just makes sense.
"The Latino diet does not have much fresh fruit and vegetables," Okida said. Food service workers are introducing pineapple, zucchini squash, broccoli and cucumber sticks to students not accustomed to that fare.
Around 9:30 a.m., teachers send upper grade students to the cafeteria to pick up the fresh snacks. Those snacks are delivered to kindergarten and first grade students. Only a handful of snacks come back uneaten.
The produce comes straight from the market, with no added sugar or additives, Okida said.
The Planada district received $28,474 in grant funding during the current 2012-2013 school year. Gonzalez said he got the idea to seek the federal funding after talking with Zamora, saying Planada and Livingston demographics are similar.
Last week Planada students were offered table grapes, broccoli and apples, along with nectarines and peaches.
"We are very appreciative of the program," Gonzalez said. "When I make the rounds, I no longer see bags of Cheetos. Hopefully this will make a lasting impression on food habits. I was thankful for the opportunity from the state Department of Education, and we are reaping tremendous benefits for our children and the community."
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced 342 schools are sharing $11.1 million through the federal program.
Schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, with 50 percent or more of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, are eligible.
Grant funding was allocated at $55 per student and ranges between $2,750 and $66,000 per school.
"Students who don't have enough nutritious food to eat can have a tough time succeeding in school," Torlakson said. "As part of my Team California for Healthy Kids initiative, we are working to help improve their health and physical fitness, which in turn is linked to academic success."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.