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Monday, June 6, 2011

Visiting Cleveland

According to our cross-country “planned itinerary,” our first day’s drive from Dulles Airport in Washington D.C., to Cleveland should have taken about six hours (355 miles). However, since we are on vacation, we took our time and made a few side trips -- mostly for “bio breaks” and to eat.

Most of our drive was through Pennsylvania’s beautiful countryside ... but there was also a fair amount of road construction. (For some reason it seems as if everywhere we drive there is road construction and closures, which I assume is because of the fantastic weather conditions.) As we neared Pittsburgh, I realized how close Pittsburgh and Cleveland actually are. Geography really comes alive when you see it in person!

Our first night in Cleveland was spent visiting my cousin Debbie and her daughter Rachel. They took us to a Cuban restaurant for dinner. As we pulled up to the ETON Center, my daughter Alex warned me, “Remember Mom, we ARE in Cleveland.” That was code for “Don’t have really high expectations, as we are not in New York City or Los Angeles.”

Well, much to our surprise the Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar in Woodmere, Ohio,  was fantastic and very authentic. Whether it was the ceviche dishes we enjoyed as appetizers (I had tuna and melon and Alex had shrimp with tomato and lime) or the stuffed poblano pepper I had as my main dish (Alex had a Brazilian stew with chorizo and hot peppers and onions), the food was authentic and flavorful. Cleveland was not a disappointment.

But, my favorite part of our evening was the conversation. My cousin Rachel is a corporate attorney and a mother of two adorable boys, and she somehow finds time to volunteer at her boys’ school. As with most mothers, she is passionate about her kids and what they eat. So I was thrilled when she told me about the snacking program that her PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) has organized.

Three times during the school year, the PTO hosts a “snack session” at this K-4 public school. They contact local grocery stores (like Giant Eagle markets, Heinens Markets and Costco) to get fresh seasonal produce donated.

The parents not only secure the produce, but they also create “fact sheets” (click here to see an example) about the fresh produce, so the students can take the information home to their parents, and hopefully this will encourage parents to purchase some of these fruits and veggies at their local stores.

Rachel explained to me that just this past week, the snack program sampled purple carrots and white asparagus! Wow – those are two pretty unusual vegetables! She said that it is fun to watch the kids during the sampling.

They are prepped into individual sampling cups and the kids are actually seated, by class, in the lunch room. Then the parents walk around the room, with samples on trays, and offer the kids a sample. She said that although there are always a few kids who do not want to try something new, most kids are delighted with the samples and as they take a bite, they share their enthusiasm (such as, “This is great, can I have more?”). It seems as if this excitement generates even more enthusiasm for this tasting experience.

I told Rachel about our own company, Frieda’s, experience sampling exotic produce in a school program in Florida (learn about the program here) and how there is a federal government funded snacking program in every state. We partnered with a produce wholesale company (B &; M Produce/The Produce Connection) and worked together to offer unusual items at least once a month during the school year.

We know that we can truly change the way America eats fruits and vegetables by starting with the youngest consumers. If we can get kids to try Lychee, Starfruit and baby Persian cucumbers, we hope they will be lifetime consumers.

Do you have snacking programs at your local schools? Do you want to start one? I hope you’ll share your comments and ideas in the comments form below.

From on the road,

Karen

P.S. It’s been a wonderful trip across America. More stories about our experience will follow in my next few posts.

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