This February, locally grown papayas will be incorporated into student meals across the state as part of the Hawaii State Department of Education's (HIDOE) 'Aina Pono Harvest of the Month program.
"We'll be using fresh papayas from our farmers to make papaya bread from scratch in our school cafeterias," said Albert Scales, program administrator, School Food Services Branch. "Imagine your grandma's homemade banana bread, but with a twist. This time, it's papaya."
The effort to include more local ingredients in student meals is made possible through various community partnerships and continued support from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA), the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) and various local farms across the state.
"Encouraging students to eat more fruits and vegetables is beneficial to their overall development and growth," said DOH's School Health Coordinator Jennifer Ryan. "It provides them with the essential nutrients and vitamins that they need, strengthens the immune system, and increases their energy and concentration levels."
Since eating habits and food preferences start at an early age, Ryan says it's important to introduce children to new local foods and teach them how to make healthier decisions about food.
"If we teach them how to make healthier food choices now, it can potentially lessen their chances of developing diabetes, being at risk for childhood obesity and having nutritional deficiencies in the long term," she said.
Spearheaded by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, the Farm to School Initiative was created in 2015 to increase locally grown food in student meals. Today, the Farm to School Initiative is included under 'Aina Pono, which also incorporates school gardens, nutrition, health and food education, test kitchens, meal programs and menu planning at Hawaii's public schools.