With summer coming to a close and a new school year just around the corner, Gleaners is ready to continue leading the fight against hunger for some of our youngest neighbors in need. The Youth Programs team has been hard at work distributing food through Summer Meals for Kids and Summer BackSacks, as well as piloting a nutrition education program called Summer Nutrition Club. This new program was designed to teach children about healthy eating habits and provide them with opportunities to experience fruits and vegetables in new ways. Here are a few highlights and successes from the very first Summer Nutrition Club:
- A total of 85 children participated in 11 nutrition lessons at 3 different sites in Marion County.
- Approximately 155 pounds of green peppers, 137 pounds of summer squash (zucchini and yellow squash), and 81 pounds of nectarines were used in the program. The children explored the produce with all 5 of their senses, ate it in tasty and nutritious recipes, and took it home to share with their families.
- All of the children received their own MyPlate at the end of the last lesson to encourage healthy choices from all five food groups at home. They were very excited about this parting gift and couldn’t wait to try out their plates!
Good nutrition is important for healthy childhood growth and development not only during the summer months, but also throughout the school year. However, 1 in 5 children in Indiana does not always have enough to eat to stay healthy. This is especially true on the weekends and during school breaks when school meals are not available.
That’s where Gleaners’ BackSacks: Weekend Food for Kids program comes in. Each Friday, a bag of shelf-stable, kid-friendly, easy-open foods is sent home with nearly 9,000 at-risk children in more than 240 schools. The 9 food items included in each bag are designed to fill the nutritional gaps that may exist for kids who come home to empty refrigerators and cupboards. Our Nutrition Manager recently analyzed the nutrition content of our BackSack menu, and here is what she found:
- Approximately half of a child’s weekend needs for calories, total fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamin A is provided by the BackSack.
- The items in the BackSack provide an excellent source of vitamin C, iron, potassium, and calcium.
- The BackSack menu meets pediatric nutrition recommendations to limit saturated fat to less than 10% of calories and sodium to less than 1900-2200 milligrams per day.
We know that well-nourished kids do better in school and at home. The impact of the BackSacks program extends far beyond just one weekend of food - it helps children to grow strong, learn, and succeed not just in elementary school, but throughout their life.