A 25-foot-long salad bar with fruits and vegetables for every letter of the alphabet greeted students as they entered the cafeteria at John Muir Elementary School on Wednesday.
Children walked the length of the buffet, stopping at offerings like jicama, kiwi, turnips and navel oranges, choosing whatever items appealed to them.
The giant salad bar — which went along with a free lunch of chicken, rice, sandwiches and milk — was part of a school-wide nutrition fair organized by the Food Service Department of the Glendale Unified School District. The fair was held in March because it is the American Dietetic Assn.’s National Nutrition Month.
The nutrition fair is a way for the students to learn about healthy eating not just by hearing about it, but by seeing and trying the food, said Agnes Lally, the school district’s director of food services.
“Because this is nutrition month, we want to tie all these activities together,” Lally said.
John Muir students stopped at booths about food, nutrition and physical activity, which were set up on the playground, before arriving at the salad bar for lunch.
At one booth, Sabrina Bohn, who grows vegetables in Woodland Hills and sells them at the weekly Glendale farmer’s market on Brand Boulevard, held up various fruit and vegetables and helped students identify them.
A group of kindergartners easily named the carrots and broccoli, but were unsure about more exotic items like radicchio and Brussels sprouts.
At another booth, chefs served up mini portions of spinach lentil soup.
Some of the children looked askance at the unfamiliar substance, but others tried it with excitement.
“It tastes good,” 5-year-old Joseph Castillo said.
At a third booth, employees from a Glendale Albertsons grocery store got students to try new foods by playing a game called “Fear Factor.” The children rolled two dice to get a number, and then were asked to try the fruit or vegetable laid out on a corresponding paper plate.
Nine-year-old Sevada Safaryan didn’t hesitate to try a slice of green bell pepper, even though he expected it to be a hot pepper.
“I thought it was really hot. But it wasn’t,” he said.
At lunchtime, Aram Derderian, 9, tried a bite of green star fruit, and decided it was all right.
“It’s not sweet,” he said. “It’s gooey.”
It was the first time the school district has organized a nutrition fair like this, Lally said. But Muir and a handful of other Glendale Unified elementary schools are in their second year of participating in a nutrition education program through the Network for a Healthy California, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The goal of the network is to increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables Californians eat each day, and to increase the amount of physical activity children do to at least one hour a day, said Myrna Panetta, who coordinates the school district’s participation in the nutrition network.
Through that program, Muir students are introduced to a new fruit or vegetable each month. Teachers can incorporate the selected food item into their curriculum, and the children get to try the food each month at lunch.
Encouraging students to eat fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly is a way to prevent diet-related health conditions like obesity, Panetta said.
ANGELA HOKANSON covers education. She may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at email@example.com.