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posted: 7/20/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Learning to eat our fruits and veggies

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

In our busy lives, where our next meal is often a drive-through window away, few of us can truthfully say we get our full recommended complement of fruits and vegetables every day. Or that we feed them to our kids. Or if, when we do, they actually eat them.

Our fast-food society has left us with love handles and, worse, it's shortening the lives of our kids. In a bad economy when food budgets are strained, fresh fruits and vegetables are sometimes out of reach.

The Illinois State Board of Education funnels federal money to schools to promote healthy eating habits.

Schools in Illinois this fall will receive a total of $4.9 million to boost fruit and vegetable offerings. All told, 267 schools in Illinois that have lower-income students and participate in the National School Lunch Program are participating. Among them are 31 suburban schools in Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300, Elgin Area School District U-46, West Chicago Elementary District 33, Wheeling Elementary District 21, Palatine Township Elementary District 15, Marquardt Elementary District 15 in Glendale Heights, West Aurora Unit District 129, Barrington Unit District 220 and Waukegan Unit District 60.

The amount of money offered has grown each year, as has the number of schools participating.

That's encouraging.

"This program helps children from low-income families feed their minds and bodies with good nutrition and promotes healthy habits for life," board Chairman Gery J. Chico said.

All students at the target schools get access to a variety of free fresh fruits and vegetables at least twice a week anytime during the day except during breakfast and lunch, which are funded separately. Schools are given between $50 and $75 per student.

Schools incorporate nutrition education into lesson plans. Some celebrate a vegetable of the day. Some put on farmers markets. While reinforcing good nutrition through class work should be an effective way to work fresh produce into kids' lives, it's important to note that families have the responsibility of either establishing or, at minimum, reinforcing good eating habits.

And any parent knows that it can be a challenge to get a child interested in anything beyond corn and apples.

Officials at Lake Zurich Unit District 95 know the challenge all too well.

Last year the school board dropped its 30-year food vendor with the hope of giving students healthier options. The new company cooked from scratch, added a free salad bar and eliminated fried food.

But kids didn't eat the food. Sales plummeted.

So District 95 went back to its old vendor with the thought it would provide healthy options but experiment to see what kids actually eat.

Sounds like home.

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