TWIN FALLS — Standing in front of a group of fifth graders Monday, April Bruns held up a toy car.
What powers a car? Fuel. The United Dairymen of Idaho consultant told more than 50 students at Pillar Falls Elementary School their bodies also need fuel: nutritious food.
“If we don’t put fuel in our body, we won’t be able to keep going all day,” she said.
Bruns was one of several speakers during a kick-off event for National School Lunch Week, which begins next week. Speakers during the event included Idaho U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nutrition officials and educators say children do better academically when they’re well nourished.
During the event, students sampled food at three stations in the school cafeteria.
Chobani served yogurt and children chose which toppings to add. Glanbia handed samples of cheese and United Dairymen of Idaho passed out milk, as well as plastic bags with slap bracelets and jump ropes.
Pillar Falls fifth-grader Drake Hathorne, 10, said he enjoyed the cheese samples. “I like the texture of it,” he said.
He eats breakfast at home before school each day, but eats school-provided lunch. Some of his favorite lunch offerings so far this year are chicken strips and spaghetti.
The Twin Falls School District serves about 2,550 breakfasts and 6,200 lunches every day across its 15 campuses.
The district has a farm-to-school program, getting products from local growers such as Kelley’s Canyon Orchard and Clear Springs Foods.
Food service director Lori Rieth told students the school district is working to replace junk food with fresh fruits and vegetables.
And after surveying students, school nutrition staff made recent changes to menus and incorporated fresh herbs to add flavor to food.
Every Twin Falls School District campus offers free breakfast. And eight schools with high poverty rates offer free lunches through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision.
The nationwide school lunch program is important to Idaho, Crapo told students.
He told fifth-graders he and others in Congress are working in Washington, D.C. to reauthorize and strengthen the school lunch program.
A “tremendous amount of food” grown in Idaho is used in school lunches nationwide, he said, and it’s a boost to the state’s economy.
“Idaho is one of our nation’s strongest agricultural producers,” he said. And the Magic Valley is one of the primary agricultural and food producers in Idaho.
Idaho is also the third largest dairy producer in the United States, Crapo said.
During a presentation, Crapo also complimented Pillar Falls’ school facilities. The school, as well as Rock Creek Elementary School, opened in August.
“I congratulate you on being such a fabulous new school,” he told students. “I’m impressed.”
Jesus Mendoza, a western regional administrator for the USDA’s food and nutrition service, told students his favorite part of the job is going to schools.
This school year, students are eating healthier meals across the country, Mendoza said. The lunches include more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables.
During her presentation, Bruns put on a turkey hat and students laughed. “Like my hat?” she asked fifth-graders. “Yeah,” the children responded.
She told students it’s her thinking cap.
“Who can tell me some dairy products?” Bruns asked students. They threw out answers, including yogurt, cheese, ice cream and chocolate milk.
Then, she asked students to hold up fingers for the number of servings of dairy they should get each day. The correct answer, Bruns told students, is at least three.
Dairy is important because it helps build strong bones and muscles, Bruns told students.
And children need good nutrition, she said, to play for the recommended one hour each day.