Julien Elementary Students Enjoy California-Grown Produce in the Central Valley
In the heart of the Central Valley, Jennifer Lew-Vang leads the school meal program at Turlock Unified School District, offering free breakfast and lunch to her 14,000 students each day. For Jennifer, her role goes beyond ensuring these meals are available for all students — she also wants to encourage students to explore and try new fruits and vegetables. Jennifer says, “Introducing new foods to students can help develop healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives.” As a member of the California Food for California Kids® Network since 2014, the school meal program at Turlock Unified emphasizes farm to school, aiming to source fresh California fruits and vegetables and support local farmers. The district received a California Farm to School Incubator Grant in 2021, which provided funding for a “Farm to School Expo” to promote school meals and nutrition education to students and families.
Inspired by Jennifer’s leadership and vision, the Center for Ecoliteracy recently visited Julien Elementary School to provide samples of California-grown leafy green kale for students to taste. Through our Fresh from California / Todo Fresco California campaign, the Center for Ecoliteracy is helping schools procure, serve, and promote more California-grown fruits and vegetables. Staff at the Turlock Unified central kitchen helped to prepare lacinato kale salad and kale smoothies made from kale, banana, strawberries, and blueberries. Food Service Assistant Nora Pena is a mother of a Julien Elementary student. “I’m so glad you’re going to my son’s school!” she said. The teamwork of Nora and her fellow staff to prepare over 150 samples for students was crucial to making the taste test a successful event.
Lunch at Julien Elementary is more than just a time for students to eat. Principal Jenny Henderson understands that her students need a space to be kids. “For me, this is a time for them to socialize and enjoy a meal together,” she says. The school campus has a school garden where students learn how food grows and participate in planting, harvesting, and cooking different fruits and vegetables throughout the school year.
First, second, and third graders gathered to sample the kale salad and smoothies alongside their lunch. Students were excited to sample everything and overwhelmingly preferred the dark green smoothie. After lunch, students participated in a sticker survey where they shared how much they had learned about and eaten fruits and vegetables this school year. Are you looking for a new way to incorporate local vegetables into your school meal program? Smoothies are a great way to introduce students to unfamiliar foods.