Getting kids to eat their fruits and vegetables can be tough but a new program through Montana State University has them cleaning their plates and asking for seconds.
At Fort Benton Elementary, Montana agriculture producers are testing kids through a pilot project called Harvest of the Month.
“They provide marketing materials and the connections and resources for schools to bring together farms and schools and bring fresh food into local cafeterias,” Joellyn Clark, Education Director for the Chouteau County Farmers Union, said.
Each month, a different Montana grown product is highlighted.
November's menu included apples and in front of their peers, several kids are selected to sample one savory and one sweet dish.
Mark Smith, a district aide with Fort Benton Elementary, prepares the recipes. Last month, he made a baked apple with Italian sausage and brown rice and a baked apple crisp.
For the kids, apprehension turns to adventure as they take the stage for a blind taste test.
“One of the things they’re trying to do is encourage them to be brave in trying these different foods,” Clark said.
Nine-year-old Charlie Arnst took part in September to share zucchini pizza bites and zucchini chocolate cake. The experience elicited a rollercoaster of emotions.
“Fun, but you don’t know what’s going to happen so you’re worried,” Charlie said. “Worried but you’re excited. So you don’t really know what to feel.”
The farming community of Fort Benton is a natural fit for the project and the nutritional knowledge is hitting home.
“A tractor runs on diesel, but there’s more than one fuel or fluid that you need for that tractor or that machine to run properly,” Smith said. “And so just like with foods, we can’t just eat pizza all the time, we need our fruits, we need our vegetables, we need vitamins, so we need a variety of foods.”
Students have also tried kale and upcoming menus include carrots, beets, and beef. Some kids are skeptical but most of the culinary offerings are well-received.
“He (Mark Smith) will ask them a question, 'Do you like it? Do you love it? Or is it not your favorite?'” Clark said. “So there’s definitely a few that will raise their hand and say 'Not my favorite,' but a lot of them are surprised.”
Most of the kids offer rave reviews.
"They just get to experience different experiences with food," Charlie Arnst said.
All of the kids sample the fare when it's offered once a month during the school lunch.
Joellyn Clark would ultimately like to see school cafeterias buy products from the Harvest of the Month menu directly from local farmers.
More information on the Harvest of the Month program can be found here.