Sherman Independent School District elementary students will have the option to try fresh fruits and vegetables free of charge each week during the 2017-2018 school year.

The offerings stem from the participation of Sherman ISD and Aramark, the district’s contracted food service provider, in the national Try-Day Friday program, which was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is meant to introduce students to new and healthy food options.

“We’re trying to get students to increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they consume throughout the school year,” Sherman ISD Director of School Nutrition Services John Spradley said. “And this program gives them the opportunity to try something you wouldn’t normally see on a menu or something they might not otherwise have the chance to try outside of school.”

Spradley said the selection of seasonal fruits and veggies will be stationed on specially-marked Try-Day Friday carts at the end of each school’s lunch line and will included everything from the common cucumber to the kiwi. He added that students will also be given nutrition information cards that break down the contents of their food and explain what benefit the foods have when consumed.

“They’re able to learn in the classroom about science, history and things like that, so why can’t we do the same thing in the lunch line?” Spradley said. “It’s all about education and making sure that they know there are healthier options out there and they can see exactly what these healthier options are doing for their bodies.”

Spradley said the other benefit of the program is that it allows the district and food service employees to infuse new flavors into the regular, rotating selection of meals the schools offer.

“Let’s say, for example, we’ve got cucumber slices or tomato wedges,” Spradley said. “We’ll put those on the Try-Day Friday cart so that the children know what it looks like and tastes like. Then, we’ll circle around the next week and try to incorporate it into our menu. That way, they’re familiar with these foods and aren’t scared to pick them up.”

And while Try-Day Friday may be a clever name with its rhyme, Spradley explained that the program is strategically set to take place at the end of the week.

“We hope that they’ll get excited about the foods and tell their parents about it when they head home” Spradley said. “Then, if they happen to go grocery shopping with mom or dad or whoever that weekend, they’ll spot that fresh fruit or vegetable they tried and the family will make the decision to bring it home and incorporate into their meals.”

Spradley said he and the district expect the offerings to be a big hit among the young students and the hope is that students’ exposure to the fruits and vegetables will have a long-lasting influence.

“We want to make sure we’re getting those healthy habits in place at an early age,” Spradley said. “This way, they’re more likely to make good foods a part of their lifestyles as they get older.”