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Grant will fund new nutrition program

Independent School District 196 is going to be pretty popular in the produce section this fall.

The ISD 196 School Board officially accepted a $7,125 grant from Dakota County last week. That money will allow the district's Early Childhood Family Services Department to participate in the county's Learning About Nutrition Through Activities program. Part of the money will go to training, but most of it will be used to buy fruits and vegetables to help the district's youngest students -- and in some cases their parents -- get an early start on healthful eating.

The idea behind the LANA program is simple: give young students a chance to discover and enjoy foods that are good for them, and they'll be more likely to eat well as they get older.

"A lot of times children aren't eating healthy vegetables and fruits because they're not familiar with them," said Karen Keller, the district's ECFE manager. "Children like to try things and do it on their own, and when they do they are more excited about eating it."

District staff will get training in the program on Oct. 29. ECFE programs have taught lessons on nutrition before, but they haven't always had the money to buy fruits and vegetables so students could try them.

The LANA program is relatively new, but it's already been used successfully at several pilot sites. The program, which in its first pilot was funded in part by the American Cancer Society, will focus primarily on dark red and green vegetables like broccoli, cherry tomatoes and sweet red peppers that are known to have cancer-fighting properties.

The program teaches a number of ways to get more fruits and vegetables into a normal diet.

"With District 196, a lot of those kids, it will just involve snacks," said Laurie Haenke, a Dakota County community health specialist. "A lot of the programs, they'll just have crackers for snack time. We're really trying to get more of a variety."

There will also be an opportunity in some of the District 196 classes to involve parents.

"One of the classrooms we're really excited about using it in is our family literacy program, called family school," Keller said. "These are all immigrant families that are coming to learn English."

Keller said immigrant families often need nutritional information for fruits and vegetables that are more common here than in their home countries.

The Dakota County grant will pay for the first year of the program, but Keller sees value in extending the program.

"With all the emphasis right now on children's nutrition, I wouldn't doubt that this would continue," she said.