By: Kate Olender, Senior Director of Health and Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association
Eleven-year old Aniana had never tasted a blueberry until she tried one in Kids Cuisine. She had also never tried watermelon. It turns out she likes the taste of both! For Aniana, it’s an added bonus that that eating fruit helps keep your heart healthy – one of the many “facts she never knew” before Kids Cuisine, she says.
Kids Cuisine, a program of Community Housing Partners in Christiansburg, Virginia, now offers fresh produce thanks to the United Fresh Start Foundation’s Community Grants Program. Before being selected for a 2017 grant, the after-school program offered packaged snacks to the more-than 200 low-income children it serves. Now, kids enjoy blueberry smoothies, “orangie oranges,” and other fresh fruits and veggies after school. Tiffany Slusher, Resident Services Manager at Community Housing Partners, says that without the funds from the United Fresh Start Foundation “we would not have attempted to change our snack program to offer fresh produce.”
She explains that it’s not uncommon for Kids Cuisine kids, like Aniana, to try certain fresh fruits and vegetables for the first time in the program. Because Kids Cuisine families live on tight budgets, it’s a financial risk for many caregivers to purchase food they aren’t sure their families will like. “Risking grocery money on produce that is unfamiliar does not happen frequently, if ever,” Tiffany says. “Offering these different fruits and vegetables has exposed children to new foods they may have otherwise not tried due to expense and uncertainty,” she adds.
Fortunately, the Kids Cuisine program is designed to overcome this hurdle because it lets kids try fresh produce and determine they like it first. Then, the program sends kids home with recipe cards that encourage them to share what they tried with their caregivers, who may then find it less of a financial risk to spend their limited grocery budget on fresh fruits and vegetables that they are confident will be consumed at home.
The Kids Cuisine strategy is working. Lashan, a parent with children who participate in the Kids Cuisine program, reports that her kids came home with recipe cards, and shared their excitement about the fresh fruits and vegetables they had tried after school. That was proof enough to give her the confidence to start purchasing more fresh produce and even try a few produce-centric recipes at home.
Community Housing Partners’ Kids Cuisine program recognizes that when kids enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables with their friends after school, they are building healthy eating habits for life. The United Fresh Start Foundation is proud to be a supporter.