Students and Parents

How Farm-to-School Helps Kids Eat Healthy


Farm-to-school programs connect schools and local farmers. These schools procure from local farmers and include farm fresh foods in meals and snacks. The most effective farm-to-school programs incorporate nutrition-based curriculum and provide students with learning opportunities such as cooking demonstrations, gardening, farm visits, and other lessons that incorporate agricultural themes. Research is showing that when children have increased access to high quality fresh fruits and vegetables, as in farm-to-school programs, they will eat more servings of these healthy foods, thereby improving both their eating habits and nutritional health. Key findings of five research papers are summarized below. The first “research brief” study from USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) summarizes the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a “healthy school meal environment.” Summaries of four research studies document the positive changes in eating habits and child nutrition as a result of serving schoolchildren more fresh fruits and vegetables. Three of the four describe farm-to-school programs that served primarily locally grown produce, and the fourth study describes a national pilot program designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by schoolchildren, where a portion of the fresh produce served was locally grown.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Ways to Create A Healthy School Meal Environment
This USDA/ERS Research Brief concludes that the more attractive school meals are to children, the more likely they are to eat them. Of particular importance is encouraging consumption of fruits, salad and other vegetables served with the meals. These foods are under consumed by American children compared with the USDA Food Guide Pyramid recommendations and are also the components of USDA school meals most likely to be discarded uneaten by children (plate waste). Key results: ERS reviewed several strategies for increasing the appeal of school meals to children. This research brief summarizes research findings and recommends strategies for improving the school meal environment, such as: Increase choices and student input into food service decisions.” In Oregon, as fruit and veg. choices were increased to 6 items per day, food waste decreased by as much as 36%.

  • Improve the selection of USDA-donated commodities. One study found that increasing the amount of fresh produce made available to schools decreased plate waste.
  • Increase the use of produce and local foods, and improve preparation. Case studies of farm-to-school programs suggest that using local fresh foods increases school meal participation and consumption of salad and other vegetables.


Source: Buzby J, Guthrie J, Ralston K. A Healthy School Meal Environment, Food Assistance Research Brief, USDA, Economic Research Service, Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Report Number 34-5. July 2003. Accessed Nov. 7, 2005

3. Ventura (CA) Farm-to-School Salad Bar
Researchers from the University of California at Davis studied children’s food choices after a farm-to-school salad bar program was initiated. An integrated program that includes gardening, nutrition education, on-site recycling, and farm tours it features a cafeteria salad bar stocked with farm-fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers. Key Results: The salad bars raised fruit and vegetable consumption. Kids took more than the USDA minimum servings and chose more variety than from the regular lunch line (hot lunch)

When many kinds of fruits and vegetables are offered, kids take them. This is most true when options are fresh.

Conclusion “Children know what tastes good to them. They will choose fruits and vegetables when they are fresh and presented in an appealing way. Even children who eat “fast food” are quick to tell you when their lunch servings are not fresh or have a ‘plastic’ taste.”


Source: Accessed October 31, 2005

2. Los Angeles Farm-to-School Salad Bar
In 1999, a team of researchers from UCLA team evaluated fourteen low-income schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District and found a high percentage of overweight and obese students and a small amount of fruits and vegetables consumed each day. Two years later, the UCLA team evaluated a group of students from three of the fourteen schools who had participated in the original study. The three schools had, in the previous year, developed farm-to-school salad bar programsas part of the intervention related to the study. One rationale for the farm-to-school program was the fact that elementary school age children in families from lower socioeconomic groups eat the majority of their meals at school. The farm-to-school program broadened the food choices in the USDA’s reimbursable lunch program and. contained a child and teacher nutrition education component. Key results: Evaluating the same group of students UCLA researchers identified

  • A significant increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables (from an average of 2.8 to 4.2 per day) that researchers traced specifically to the salad bar program
  • A majority of children interviewed (56%) ate from the salad bar everyday or most days
  • Calories (kcal) from fat as well as cholesterol intake went down.
  • Conclusion: The salad bar lunch menu option can significantly increase the frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption of children living in low income households


Source: Slusser, W. and C. Neumann, 2001. “Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Salad Bar Program in the Los Angeles School District,” Los Angeles: School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, cited in “Farm to School: Strategies for Urban Health, Combating Sprawl and Establishing a Community Food Systems Approach,” Journal of Planning Education and Research 23:414-423.

4. The Farmers’ Market Salad Bar: Assessing the First Three Years of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Program.
This report discusses the success of a three-year pilot program entitled “Farmers’ Market Fruit and Salad Bar,” designed to increase student consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and to link the school lunch program to community food security, and nutrition education objectives. Over the three pilot years, the program was implemented in 9 elementary schools and two middle schools in California. Key results: “On average, more than three times the number of children selected the farmers market salad bar option than in the previous year when the produce used was pre-cut and purchased through a produce broker. At the same time, the unit cost of the farmers’ market salad bar meal was less than the hot meal option as well as the previous years non Farmers’ Market Salad Bar items. This Farmers’ Market Salad Barprogram can be considered a major success in contributing to healthier diets for school children and support for local farmers.”


Source: Michelle Mascarenhas and Robert Gottlieb, Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA, report prepared for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Food and Nutrition Services, October 2000. ( ) or PRC.04/IM.March.04/Farmers3.04.pdf+mascarenhas+farmers+market+salad+bar&hl=en

5. USDA Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program (FFVP)
The program provided schools with free fresh and dried fruits and fresh vegetables (some locally grown) to be served to schoolchildren throughout the day in 107 elementary and secondary schools in five states in 2002-2003. Success was determined by the students’ interest. Most participating schools considered the pilot program to be very successful. Key results: School staff believed that the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables (through the pilot)

  • lessened the risk of obesity
  • increased attention in class
  • reduced consumption of less healthy food
  • reduced number of unhealthy snacks brought fromhome
  • increased students’ awareness and preference for a variety of fruits and vegetables (particularly less familiar kinds, such as kiwis and fresh pears)
  • helped children who would otherwise be hungry get more food, and
  • increased students consumption of fruits and vegetables at lunch.

Students liked the pilot because

  • They got to eat favorite fruits and vegetables more often
  • They liked the health benefits of eating these foods

Students and Staff Both Reported Improved Eating Habits,

  • including a greater willingness by students to try different fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli or cauliflower that they were unwilling to eat before
  • greater consciousness about eating too much “junk food”
  • Foodservice staff in one school said that they had sold 25 percent fewer doughnuts in the morning since the pilot’s inception and 50 percent fewer lunchtime desserts.
  • In another school, middle school students reported that the sale of candy through the school booster activity had dramatically decreased since the pilot’s beginning. While 850 pieces of candy had been sold the week before the pilot started, only 300 had been sold every week since.

Other Results

  • Almost one in three schools felt that the FVPP increased the likelihood that children would participate in school meals
  • 79 out of 105 schools reported that the FVPP increased children’s acceptance of fruits and vegetables offered as part of school meals.


Source: USDA/ERS Fresh/Dried Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program Final Report: Research summarized by the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Inc., November 2005.

Welcome to our new ChopChop Kids Club newsletter!

Are you home from school right now?
This is the perfect time to learn to cook—or, if you already know how to cook, to master some skills. Plus, if you can make a meal or two, you’ll be helping your family in such an important way (and your adults will be so happy). You might not be shopping much, so the trick will be using what you’ve already got at home. We have ideas about that.

Let’s get started!

On June 2, 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack released the federal government’s new food icon, MyPlate, to serve as a reminder to help consumers make healthier food choices. MyPlate is a new generation icon with the intent to prompt consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times and to seek more information to help them do that by going to The new MyPlate icon emphasizes the fruit, vegetable, grains, protein foods, and dairy groups. Later in 2011, MiPlato was launched as the Spanish-language version of MyPlate. provides practical information to individuals, health professionals, nutrition educators, and the food industry to help consumers build healthier diets with resources and tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and other user-friendly nutrition information. As Americans are experiencing epidemic rates of overweight and obesity, the online resources and tools can empower people to make healthier food choices for themselves, their families, and their children. MyPlate, MiPlato, and were developed by and are maintained by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion (CNPP).