Processed pilot evaluation shows parent preference for fresh

A 126-page evaluation of a four-state pilot using canned, frozen or dried fruits and vegetables in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program showed two-thirds of parents surveyed during the pilot wanted the program to continue as fresh only.

The 2014 farm bill called for a pilot project within the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to offer canned, frozen, or dried fruits and vegetables as part of the program in the 2014–15 school year. The pilot was in 58 schools in Alaska, Delaware, Kansas and Maine.

The farm bill also included a requirement that the pilot be evaluated based on four objectives:
  • Effect on students' fruit and vegetable consumption;
  • Effect of the changes to the program on participation and operation of the program;
  • Implementation strategies used by schools in the pilot project; and
  • Acceptance of the pilot project by students, parents and school officials.

According to a survey, 67% of parents of children in the pilot program schools support fresh fruits and vegetables exclusively in the program, 22% prefer a mix of fresh and canned/frozen/dried, and only 1% chose no fresh produce.

The pilot evaluation said that on days the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program snacks were served, consumption decreased from 1.72 cup equivalents in the fall of 2014 (when the program was fresh only) to 1.46 cup equivalents in the spring 2015, when the canned, frozen and dried pilot was active.

The evaluation said the decrease in fruit and vegetable consumption was driven by decreased consumption of fruit; vegetable consumption did not significantly change when the pilot was active, according to the evaluation.

The summary of the report said fresh items decreased from virtually all snacks in the fall of 2014 to 74% of snacks in the spring. Fresh fruits dropped from 72% to 58% of snacks and fresh vegetables went from 28% to 16% of snacks, according to the evaluation.

Students reported preferring fruits to vegetables, fresh items to canned, frozen or dried forms, and raw vegetables to cooked. The study said a large percentage of students had either never tasted or did not know if they liked certain canned/frozen/dried fruits or cooked vegetables.

Students in the pilot preferred fresh oranges over canned mandarins, fresh pears over canned pears, and fresh apples over applesauce or dried apples, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh Produce Association.

The results of the pilot support United Fresh's position that the program should continue to serve only fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the group.

Fruit and vegetable consumption decreased with the pilot, and the program substituted fresh largely with canned mandarin oranges, cranberries, raisins and trail mix, she said.

Hardly any canned vegetables or frozen fruits or vegetables were served at all, she said.

"We're happy to have the results," DiSogra said. "Our position in the farm bill is to fight to protect the program as the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program."