Written by: Ryan Laswell
Edited by: Stacy Scheibl
This summer, Nourish joined six community locations to serve lunch to youth in the Sheboygan Area School District. Summer Lunch exists to give students under the age of 18 access to a healthy meal at no cost to the child. Nourish worked with SASD to help procure a seasonal fruit or vegetable from a local farmer to be served each Thursday for the six weeks this program ran. Nourish's goal was to help influence how youth and their families view their food by encouraging them to make good choices through tasting and experiential learning. Volunteers provided tangible items to familiarize the students with plants, seeds, and/or pictures of plants the fruit/veggie grew from. Various other educational tools were used to explain the difference between a whole food and a pre-packaged snack food which looks or tastes like a fruit or vegetable. Numerous Nourish Ambassadors reported kids who had never seen a strawberry plant, tomato plant, or the different types of beans or seeds that were displayed. By seeing the plants and learning more about the food, trying new foods becomes more inviting. Stickers were offered to the younger attendees in exchange for tasting the featured item.
3374 students were served at six Summer Lunch locations, and 1254 of them were documented as having tried the featured fresh food. We project that actual participation was closer to 40% of those in attendance. Several food service professionals at SASD indicated that, without the on-site Nourish Ambassadors who encouraged kids to taste the fresh food being featured, fewer than 10% of kids would normally choose to eat the fruits and vegetables served as part of the SASD offering. Nourish Ambassadors helped to facilitate the enthusiasm through a friendly smile, a high five, and sticker incentives.
Most of us know where our next meal is coming from, and we know that it will give us the nutrients we need. Not everyone is this fortunate. There are kids in our community who are not eating 3 square meals per day. They may be malnourished in the sense that, although they may be getting plenty of calories, they are not getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed to sustain a healthy life. Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes often reveal symptoms in adults, but may stem from early dietary habits. By encouraging, educating, and rewarding kids and families, small gradual changes are taking root here.
Familiarity with healthy foods increases the likelihood that kids will be willing to eat it, especially with those items they had never tasted before. In addition to helping ensure healthy, fresh produce was served, Nourish and SASD worked to make sure that all the produce was locally sourced from farms in Green Bay, Plymouth, Milwaukee, Madison, etc. Local food travels less distance and therefore retains more of its disease-fighting antioxidants. Local food is picked at its peak freshness, rather than being picked before it is ripe to allow for days or even weeks of travel. As if taste and nourishment wasn’t enough, it is essential to local farmers who make their living by working with local organizations. Nourish strives to bring real food to real people, and we hope to create a community that supports one another.