June is Fruit and Vegetable Month! Fruit and vegetables have a vital role in ensuring children have the proper nutrition for growth and development. Apart from being essential in our children’s health, the consumption of fruits and vegetables has been linked with improved academic performance.1 It has been shown that better academic achievement can lead to better job opportunities, housing, and access to health care. 1 Conversely, though, it might not be as well-known that a poor diet in childhood may contribute to perpetuate a cycle of poverty — mainly in areas of low socioeconomic status.1 As Children’s Aid mission is to help children in poverty to succeed and thrive, it is important to consider the relationship between good nutrition and supporting the mission that we work so diligently to achieve.
Across the nation, fruit and vegetable intake is generally quite low. In New York State, only about 1/3 of children report eating fruit less than once a day, and even fewer children (only 23%) report eating vegetables at least once a day.2 In all New York City public schools, fruits and vegetables are offered at both breakfast and lunch. However, plate studies have indicated that 55% of elementary school students and 66% of middle school students don’t select vegetables as part of their lunch, and those who do choose vegetables and fruits leave more than one-third uneaten.3
Children’s Aid works directly with youth through Community Schools and Community Centers across four targeted, high-needs areas of New York City providing comprehensive supports to children and their families. Our Children’s Aid Go!Healthy program focuses on nutrition and obesity prevention, and works to support wellness from early childhood through adolescence. Go!Healthy supports the production of hundreds of healthy meals and snacks served in early childhood and after-school programs with fruit- and vegetable-centered recipes. To complement the healthy food being served, Go!Healthy implements cooking and nutrition classes from early childhood with Go!Kids and Go!Kids Cook, and through adolescence, with Go!Chefs, Food Justice, and Gardening. The Go!Healthy Eat Smart program offers nutrition education and culinary support for families, community members, and CAS staff wellness with classes, trainings, and healthy eating promotion tables. All discussions on food support youth and their families in making the consumption of fruits and vegetables an easy choice. Go!Healthy encourages our youth and greater community to take a hands-on approach in learning about and tasting fresh fruits and vegetables in culturally relevant recipes.
Gaining basic culinary skill and learning about the many benefits of fruits and vegetables is essential in creating and supporting healthy eating habits. There are many known barriers to fruits and vegetables being eaten regularly—one of these barriers is cost. This summer, Go!Healthy will be offering a variety of opportunities for our youth and their families to receive Health Bucks. Health Bucks are $2 vouchers that can be spent only on fresh fruit and vegetables at New York City Farmers Markets. These vouchers are offered by and distributed from the New York City Health Department. Additionally, for every $5 a family spends with their EBT/SNAP benefits at a Farmers Market in New York City, they will receive one $2 Health Bucks coupon. Go!Healthy will be hosting walking trips to farmers markets for youth and community members, and an exclusive opportunity to redeem Health Bucks in the purchase of a food box at select Children’s Aid Go!Healthy sites throughout the summer and fall.
For seasonal fruit and vegetable recipes and information about all our healthy eating programming, including food box details, check out Go!Healthy’s Facebook group here.
For a map of all New York City Farmers markets (2015), check out the link here.