Growing Thriving Child Nutrition Programs in Rialto, California
*** Sharing from USDA Food and Nutrition Service email listserv ***
There’s something growing on at Rialto Unified School District (RUSD). By growing school gardens, serving more local foods in school meals, offering all students breakfast and lunch at no cost, serving healthy summer meals, and more, RUSD is supporting a healthier future for their community. And it is all due to the school district’s commitment to serving kids healthy and tasty school meals.
RUSD students are learning how food is grown by helping to tend school gardens and citrus groves. By leveraging California’s farm to school funding, RUSD has been laying the groundwork to incorporate the produce grown by students into the meals the district’s schools serve.
At Rialto Middle School, students learn about environmental resiliency and help expand the amount of local foods purchased for school meals. Not only are students making a difference by increasing the amount of fresh, nutritious, and tasty meals served in their school, they are also bringing their learning home to teach their families about healthy eating.
At another RUSD campus, Werner Elementary School, a community garden is serving as a living laboratory where students can observe, experiment with, and grow edible plants. The staff that manage Werner Elementary School’s garden strive to promote good nutrition by planting, tending, harvesting, and eating organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The school aims to empower the community with gardens and a STEM-based curriculum that engages all students in experiential outdoor education.
RUSD leadership and its Board of Education recognize that nourishing food is essential to student health and development. They acknowledge that child nutrition programs have a positive and direct impact on children’s well-being and success in the classroom and are committed to getting the entire school community and other stakeholders involved, including local farmers and elected leaders.
Given the RUSD community’s commitment to serving and teaching children about healthy food, the district naturally became a model for drive-thru food pick-up during the Covid-19 pandemic. The RUSD Nutrition Services’ mini documentary titled, “Rialto Unified School District: Feeding Kids During COVID,” provides a snapshot of the challenges the district faced and how their community worked together to feed students and families quality food in a comfortable, uplifting environment.
RUSD continues to support their students’ access to healthy school meals by:
- Participating in Community Eligibility Provision to offer all students breakfast and lunch at no cost;
- Serving breakfast in the classroom at elementary, middle, and high schools;
- Utilizing the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to introduce new produce and deliver nutrition education;
- Conducting healthy food tastes tests;
- and Using USDA Foods and scratch-cooking to create healthy school meals; and
As a result of their commitment to serving high-quality nutritious summer meals, RUSD was awarded USDA’s Turnip the Beet Gold Award in 2021 and 2022. The award recognizes outstanding summer meal program sponsors, including school districts across the nation who offer meals that are appetizing, appealing, and nutritious to children during the summer months.
The success of RUSD’s child nutrition programs is the result of an entire school community embracing efforts to serve and teach students about nutritious foods. By harnessing support from diverse community partners, as well as leveraging local, state, and federal resources, the district has put the children they serve on a path toward a healthy future. As RUSD Lead Child Nutrition Agent Fausat Rahman-Davies said in the mini documentary, “It really takes a village to feed and to raise a child.”