Power of Produce clubs: Making fruits and vegetables fun for kids
ROCK RAPIDS–What would the world look like if children ate all their fruits and vegetables? And what if they found it fun to do, so they were in that habit?
That’s the goal for a new club formed by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach called, “Power of Produce,” or ‘PoP.’
PoP Clubs will take place at area farmers’ markets this summer, with the goal of encouraging children to try new foods, making it fun for kids to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and recognizing the value of fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.
Children ages five through 12 can participate in this activity that will also help them learn how to make healthier choices for eating and snacking.
“Each week at PoP Club, we will have fun activities for youth to participate in,” said Margaret Murphy, horticulture educator and regional food coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach. “Youth will get to taste a new fruit or vegetable each week and be given a $2 token to shop at the farmers’ market to purchase fruits or vegetables to take home and enjoy with their family.”
Murphy said while the PoP Club is not new overall (having its origins in 2011), it will be new to Northwest Iowa. She said it’s a movement that has caught on in the Southwest states, and it was tool kits from those previously-formed clubs that are being used to create this one.
ISU student interns from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Design and the College of Human Sciences will conduct the clubs this summer.
“One of the really cool things about this club is that (participants) can come as often as they can make it, and at any time during the farmers’ market hours,” said Murphy, adding that once they check in at the registration table, they can start in on various games and activities centered around various fruits and vegetables.
She said the PoP Club is a way for kids to have conversations with farmers and actually buy their own fruits and vegetables at the market.
“If you read about fruit and vegetable consumption among kids and adults, (they are not getting enough of either on a regular basis,” she said. “Some of our activities will reinforce grabbing (some fruits or vegetables) rather than that candy bar when you’re hungry.”
Murphy and her team hope the club will have lasting effects as children grow.
“We hope once they’re involved in buying their own fruits and vegetables (with their token money) they’ll be more open to trying it and finding out they like it and will eat it more often,” she said.
Murphy said there will be ‘tastings’ going on all summer, and with various themes–such as root vegetables, or different (colors of) fruits and vegetables in a week, etc. She said they will host scavenger hunts for participants to seek out various offerings at the farmers’ markets, and will participate in games like “Rainbow Relay,” which is a game that reinforces eating all the colors of the rainbow. She said they may even make a Mr. Potato Head so kids can use their creativity in working with fruits and vegetables.
Renee Sweers, ISU Extension human sciences program specialist, nutrition and wellness, said children and adults all over the nation don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.
She said it shows up in obesity rates of children and adults. Childhood and adolescent obesity rates nationally stabilized between 2011 and 2014 at 17 percent, which represents 12.7 million children and adolescents. Those numbers are a decrease from 2008, when the percentage of obese children and adolescents was 19.6 percent.
“The average intake for fruits and vegetables just for Iowans of all ages is less than 1.5 times per day,” said Sweers, adding that the daily requirements are 2-1/2 cups of vegetables per day and 1-1/2 cups of fruit per day.
“One great part of this (PoP Club) project is–studies have shown that people who raise their own vegetables and know where those foods come from, eat more fruits and vegetables,” said Sweers. “If we can encourage a child’s interest in gardening or encourage their interest in where their produced comes from, it could translate into becoming better fruit and vegetable eaters into adulthood.”
Sweers said home gardening is an important way to teach children the value of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“If children are involved in the preparation of fruits and vegetables for meals, they are more likely to consume it,” she said.
Sweers said the hands-on component of this summer club is in direct opposition to the video world kids know today. She said if children can be involved in gardening and food preparation they will benefit from physical activity, time away from a computer/video screen, confidence building and will receive health benefits from the fruits and vegetables.
Sweers said tips on getting children to eat more fruits and vegetables include adults modeling it for them; placing a non-vegetable eater next one who loves to eat vegetables; placing raw vegetables on a platter as appetizers while the meal is being prepared; and also serving vegetables with dressing/hummus/dip to make it more palatable to children.
“Studies show that even if you serve raw vegetables with dip, children will still increase their vegetable consumption,” said Sweers.
She said taking time to keep a “stash” of prepared, ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator will aid in children and adults grabbing them as a snack, since they are quick.
Murphy said the PoP Club is free to participants because of grant money that is helping them carry out this summer initiative. She said the club has also received good support from community sponsors in each hosting community.
PoP Clubs will take place at the following times and locations this summer:
• Rock Rapids Farmers’ Market, located north of the Sunshine Grocery Store parking lot off of N. 2nd Ave.; Mondays from 4-7 p.m.; running June 4-Aug. 13.
• Sheldon Farmers’ Market: located at 1200 S. 2nd Ave. (old Train Depot) Mondays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.; running June 18-Aug. 13;
• Hawarden Farmers’ Market at 13th St. and Ave. East (Veterans’ Memorial Park), Thursdays from 5-8 p.m.; running July 19-Aug. 16.
The PoP Club is free because of supporting sponsorships and grants. Parents are encouraged to register their children by contacting Murphy at (712) 472-2576, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on fruits, vegetables and preparing them in a healthy way, go to https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/. It’s a website and a phone app with resources from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach on healthy eating, basic cooking, recipes, and includes a section called Produce Basics. This section gives information on shopping for, storing and preparing various produce products.