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Fruit And Veggie-Of-The-Month Club Expands Dallas Students' Taste Buds

Kids can be finicky eaters. Well, so can cats. But youngsters can be taught to open up their taste buds to try new and healthy foods. And their parents can be taught, too. That’s what’s behind a new effort in Dallas school cafeterias.

Many parents may have grown accustomed to children saying yes to sugar-rich orange soda but no to real oranges. Dallas school nutritionist Jennifer DeHoog says getting kids to try fresh produce can be tough.

“It actually takes eight to 12 times of a child trying a food before they’ll eat it,” DeHoog says.

It’s lunchtime at Dallas ISD’s Bowie Elementary school. Today’s free lunch includes not just chicken breast, milk, bread, a little fruit and, OK, a bag of chips, but sections of Cara Cara oranges soaked in lemon juice and sprinkled with cinnamon.

“It’s very good," said fifth grader Eric Gonzalez, his mouth full of juicy orange. “It’s pretty new for us, because we never -- we normally just taste the orange by itself."

The 11-year-old at least knows oranges come from trees because he’s seen them at his grandmother’s house in Leon Guanajuato, Mexico.

“I never knew oranges grew in Texas,” Eric said. “Mostly, I thought they grew in other states.”

A new Dallas school program called Tasty Teasers introduces kids to Texas fruits and vegetables that are healthy, affordable, and nutrient rich.

Dallas ISD isn't alone in finding new ways to fold fresh food into the cafeteria line. A similar program called Sample Something New was launched in Irving last fall.

In Dallas ISD, DeHoog says Bowie is one of three Dallas that are part of the launch.

“When kids learn where their foods come from, how it’s grown, they’re more likely to eat that," DeHoog said. "It’s amazing to see the kids’ reaction when they’re trying new things. They’re learning how it grows.”

And they’re taught what’s best to eat.

Students, like 9-year-old Avigail Gonzalez, learn about “go” foods and “slow” and “whoa” foods.

The fourth-grader said: “Go foods are like, ones that’ll make you, that’ll make you get energy, because energy is like, good for you!”

Today’s fresh orange slices are “go” foods. “Slow” foods, like applesauce, are a little more processed, and a step down on the preference list. At the bottom are “Whoa” foods, like apple pie, candy, or salty snacks. Bowie’s long-time gym teacher, Sharon Foster, says her students learn the difference.

“So that is incorporated at home with their parents because they come in and tell me they went to the grocery store and bought milk instead of soda," Foster said.

Foster also says this program and other nutritional changes in Dallas schools pay off in lowering childhood obesity.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.