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Kids’ Plate

By Penny Allen and Carol LaFrance

A 10 year-old boy was adamant he did NOT like blueberries.  He did really want to operate that blender though.  So, a deal was made – use the blender to make himself a blueberry smoothie, but he had to taste it.  The first sip resulted in a surprised, wide-eyed grin.  “Yum, this is really good!  I guess I DO like blueberries”.  This is just one of the successful stories that happened last summer at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market (VFM) during a visit to the Kids’ Plate booth.

Carol LaFrance and Penny Allen, originators of Kids’ Plate last summer at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market.

So what is Kids’ Plate?

In partnership with VFM, Kids Connections, INC. (KC) launched a pilot program called Kids’ Plate with two goals:  1. To educate children about good nutrition and healthy food choices that are available to them by “eating locally”, and 2. To attract more business to the VFM.

How does Kids’ Plate work?

Once a month during the market season, all children ages 6 – 12 were offered the opportunity to stop at the Kids’ Plate booth and “cook or create” a simple healthy snack for themselves.  Completely hands-on experiences proved very successful in teaching the kids not only how fun it is to eat healthy but also proper food handling, kitchen safety, follow recipes, measurements, and the importance of good hygiene.  During the “creation” process conversations were infused with key components to the Kids’ Plate mission – “Eat Well, Be Healthy, Feel Great”.

Parents were asked to enroll their kids in the program in order to track participation, track the percentage of families receiving food assistance actually making purchases at the market and to educate families about the programs/resources available to them at the market.  While the VFM is not dependent on food assistance families to be viable it is very important to them to reach the families in need and provide their children with healthy food alternatives.  Clearly, food assistance programs help everyone involved – the vendors as well as the consumers.

After signing up, kids were able to meet with Miss Carol (Carol LaFrance) to have a mini lesson involving hand outs or food-related activities.  Miss Carol then spent time discussing and answering questions with parents while Miss Penny (Penny Allen) and her helpers assisted the kids in preparing their snack (i.e. fresh salsa, homemade ranch dressing with salad greens, quesadillas, blueberry smoothies, and pumpkin dip).  The ending was perfect – the chance to eat what they created!

VFM vendors’ donations such as meat, cheese and produce played a key role in the success of Kids’ Plate.  In exchange for their donations free advertising was displayed at the Kids’ Plate booth.  Additionally, vendors who could not provide “ingredients” donated items such as tomato plants, seeds, cookies, pumpkins or monetary gifts.

As a 501c3 nonprofit, Kids Connections funded the bulk of Kids’ Plate expenses (educational materials, food items not available through vendors, kitchen equipment, consumables and simple kitchen utensils sent home with kids).

The outcomes at the end of the season were encouraging.  As a new concept, the expectations and interest level was unclear.  In the six sessions offered, 99 individual children participated representing 54 families; 30% of which qualified for food assistance.  Some children attended multiple times resulting in a total of 132 kids making their own snacks.  The Kids’ Plate Harvest Festival booth also proved very successful with over 217 kids creating caramel apple dippers!  Program evaluations from the kids, parents and vendors were all positive.

Continuation of Kids’ Plate is vital to the health and nutrition of our children, Nancy Wolf, co-market manager.  Educating them as to the value and importance of a  healthy lifestyle is critical to their success as healthy adults.  The first season of Kids’ Plate has proven the high-interest level and willingness of children to learn and be involved with personal good nutritional choices.  If you would like more information, to volunteer or make a donation to Kids’ Plate please contact Carol LaFrance at 649-4930 or Penny Allen at 649-3357.  They have some great things planned for this summer.

Be sure to stop at the market this summer and check out what’s cooking on June 27th, July 25th, August 29th and September 26. Oh, and bring your kids, too!

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