Fruit Ninjas: A Simple School Wellness Program

I admit: I occasionally rant. Every once in a while, I like to get right up on a soapbox and have at it (one of my most popular blog posts is Soccer Mom Soapbox, after all).

While I prefer to call it “therapeutic” and “consciousness raising”, some people see it as complaining. And every once in a while, someone on my Facebook page will tell me to stop whining and do something.

And of course, I do things. But sometimes my knee-jerk reaction is to gripe about something—when really, I should focus on trying to fix it instead.

At the start of the school year, I was at my son’s elementary school one morning during breakfast. They serve fresh fruit every morning, usually apples or oranges. As I sat there with my son, I noticed that while a lot of kids took fruit, hardly any of them ate it. The reason seemed pretty obvious: Peeling an orange is hard work, especially when you’re six. And most of the kids are in some stage of losing or growing their front teeth, not ideal for biting into a hard apple.

So I watched the fruit go straight into the garbage. And I got irritated.

Then I switched gears. I approached the cafeteria manager and (very politely) asked her about the fruit. Was it possible to serve sliced apples and oranges instead? No, she said she didn’t have time — and any leftover sliced fruit on the serving line would have to be trashed. I understood. But what if, I asked, someone sliced the kids’ fruit for them once they had taken it? And what if I organized it  myself — and it didn’t create any extra work for her or the cafeteria monitors?

And with that, the Fruit Ninjas were born.

The Fruit Ninja Program is school wellness program that consists of a group of parents at my son’s school. We who take turns circulating around the cafeteria in the mornings, asking kids if they’d like to have their fruit sliced. We sign up for shifts of 1-2 parents each morning, and we use a separate room off the cafeteria to cut the fruit (we deliver it to the kids in paper trays).

The students love it. The first morning of our program, I looked around the cafeteria and saw kids eating oranges instead of throwing them away. When bananas are served, we open or slice them by request too (some kids like sandwiching them between mini pancakes). And the morning we sliced fresh pears, a little boy came up to me and said he loved his pear—the first one he’d ever eaten.

What makes this successful? Parents willing to donate a half-hour of their time in the morning. And a principal and staff who care about wellness and are willing to try something new.

No, I won’t stop ranting. Because sometimes, it feels good. But turning a reaction into an action—that feels way, way better.

Image courtesy of kendrickhang via Flickr (cc)

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  1. Triccia says

    Great job!

    Is it odd that this line made me tear up?
    “And the morning we sliced fresh pears, a little boy came up to me and said he loved his pear—the first one he’d ever eaten.”

    Makes me smile!!

  2. Erika says

    Wow, this is so cool. And I hope it isn’t weird for me to say I’m so proud of you! I think this is such a wonderful thing you are all doing at your school. Made me smile 🙂

  3. Stacy @ school bites says

    Love this, Sally! Will definitely be pitching it to our Wellness Committee. In our school, unused whole fruit is put in a basket and left in the hallway–free to a good home. Hungry students and staff have been gobbling it up!

    • says

      Stacy–great idea! I will ask our cafeteria manager what happens with the leftovers. I assumed they were saved for the next meal, but I love the idea of a basket of fruit the kids/parents/staff can grab.

  4. says

    This is brilliant. Thank you! On a microlevel I saw that my children are more likely to eat fruit if it’s peeled for them or cut up, so even when I put an orange into the lunchbox I peel it. Also, at our schools there is so little time to eat that requiring the kids to peel an orange means they don’t have time to eat it once they’ve got the peel off, if that makes sense.

    Anyway, thank you for helping the children at your school and for sharing this wonderful idea!

  5. Becky says

    As always, your post is spot on. Curious, why do your kids have breakfast at school? And why were you eating their with them?

    • says

      Hi Becky–thanks for your nice words. At my son’s school, all students wait in the cafeteria before school starts, whether they are eating breakfast or not. Some mornings my son eats there, some mornings he doesn’t–and either way, he likes me to wait with him until his buddies show up :). Lately, he’s been eating school breakfast though–and that’s actually the topic of next week’s post! 🙂

  6. Nancy says

    Thank you for finding an answer instead of just ranting. As a Child Nutrition Director at a small school district, I find it’s rare for parents to actually look for a solution they can implement but rather expect the district to do it all.

  7. Jessica says

    I think that should be a national program! I know my kids always want me to peel or cut their fruit before they eat it.

  8. s monsees says

    Great Job Mom ! I work in a small school kitchen and I applaud you. Most parents
    I encounter don’t care enough. Many of our students DO NOT get fresh fruit at home
    and don’t have a clue as how to eat it. We have the advantage of time to prep our fruits and vegetables. We are part of the fresh fruits and vegetable program that supplies
    grant money to pay for food and our prep time. They get this in the morning .
    99 % of our students arrive by bus, so a breakfast plan is still in the making. Our elementry kids now look forward to this snack in the morning and teachers rave about the improvements in attention. Don’t be afraid to approach the administration if the
    kitchen staff is giving you the cold shoulder .

  9. Angie says

    Go Sally! You’re amazing. I’m an occasional lurker on your blog, but I am so impressed by this post (and what you did) that I had to cheer. This is so awesome on so many levels, and I love that you got a child to try his first pear!

  10. Maria says

    I cannot believe I have never read your blog!!! All these years seeing you at the rec center and I had no idea! My youngest is now 15 – but when she was 5 – I was the mom bringing orange slices or bananas and water – everyone hated when I had soccer snack. I was so relieved when at 8 she started playing travel soccer and the coaches preach good health and healthy habits. I love your blog and am so excited to have found it!
    Nice job Sally – this is really great!

    • says

      Thanks Maria, for such a nice comment. Glad to hear that the coaches might start requesting healthier stuff as the sports get more competitive and serious!

  11. christine edwards says

    I live across the street from Sherman Elementary school, and i would love to be a FRUIT Ninja….


  1. […] I’ve seen some decent items, like scrambled eggs in tortillas. But in heavy rotation are also Trix yogurt and Cookie Crisp. The hot item is individually-packaged: sausage biscuit sandwiches, fruit pastries, and “strawberry splash” pancakes. The fruit is frequently whole oranges, which the kids used to throw away until we began the Fruit Ninja program earlier in the school year (read “Fruit Ninjas: A Simple School Wellness Program.“) […]

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