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Summer Meal Activities with Chicago Public Schools

Fruit and vegetable relay race

Fruit and vegetable relay race in action

During the month of August the Illinois Farm to School  Network provided three short educational activities for children who came by to receive lunches from the Summer Meals Illinois program. The lunch program is sponsored by the USDA and provides free meals all summer for Chicago children. Many other organizations in the Chicago area also participated in providing summer lessons and activities to Chicago Public Schools.

We modified a game on the USDA website available here to help get a little physical activity in while teaching children to identify fruits and vegetables and where they grow. We also had plates and markers for children to use to color their own “myPlate” with their favorite fruit, vegetable, grain, and protein to reinforce good eating habits.

We provided seeds, soil, and small pots for children to plant and take home with them to grow and discussed all the things plants need to thrive. Using McAuliffe’s school garden had the children hunt for and pick ripe green beans and identify other plants in the garden. We were also able to do a little garden maintenance in between harvesting with the children.

The challenging part of this kind of programming is the variability in the number of children attending the lunch stops. The program facilitator had days when over 50 children came, and days when less than 20 were there. It also makes it necessary to have stand alone activities, since it’s nearly impossible to have a sequence of lessons when the same children may not be there from week to week.

Despite the challenges, the children got important additional exposure to the importance of fruits and vegetables,  the opportunity to actively grow some of their own foods, and to explore the garden in a fun and engaging way.


Head to and the USDA’s summer food website for more resources and information about summer meal programming in your community. If you’re looking for ideas for lessons and activities the USDA’s Team Nutrition resource library or the USDA Farm to School toolkit are great starts.

Growing Pride in Orozco Academy’s New Garden

When fresh produce is scarce at the corner store, students at Orozco

Asparagus bed at Orozco Academy

Asparagus bed at Orozco Academy

Academy of Fine Arts and Sciences in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood have learned that they can grow the ingredients in the ethnic dishes they love. Guided by Seven Generations Ahead’s Fresh From the Farm program, the community took an exciting journey through the lives of plants and into a brand new school garden designed by the students themselves. After exploring their own food culture, Orozco students chose to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, squash, jalapenos, strawberries and herbs. Many students are now tending the garden in a new after school program. The Fresh From the Farm program also held parent programming for a group of very energetic and involved Spanish-speaking parents. We taught them nutrition, healthy eating, shopping and meal preparations and two gardening education lessons. Along with their school garden, these families have cultivated a sense of ownership, respect and pride, as well as new habits for healthy living.

Kids Rave about Kale

“More kale, please!”kale

That’s what a group of first through third graders at Stagg Elementary shouted after trying kale for the first time. The students are participating in the Illinois Farm to School Network’s eight-week after-school program.

As you know, Seven Generations Ahead is deeply involved in the Illinois Farm to School Network, a statewide organization that works to bring local foods sourcing and agricultural education into the schools.

Since beginning my internship with SGA, I’ve been working with Lydia Mills, SGA’s Farm to School Network coordinator, on an after-school program at Stagg, a Chicago Public School on the city’s South Side. We’ve also worked hard with the first through third graders there to implement a gardening program at the school, using SGA’s “Sow and Grow” curriculum.

We’re happy to report that these students are even more thrilled about getting their hands dirty in the garden and trying new, and as they would describe it, “nutritious and delicious” foods.

Along with learning about gardening, every week students participate in Mindful Tastings that introduce them to particular to foods that they don’t typically eat or have access to. On this particular day, kale — the low-calorie leafy green known for its potent vitamin A, C, and K nutrients — was the food of choice.

This session ended with Lydia and me leaving the school smiling from ear to ear because we were so inspired by the children’s joy in discovering a wholesome, local, and new food.

Rachelle Reenders is a Dominican University MBA candidate and dietetic intern currently working at Seven Generations Ahead on the Farm to School Network.