Think back to your school lunches. What did you drink? It probably wasn't water. Certainly, it wasn't water infused with strawberries, kiwis, and basil or blueberries, strawberries, and mint. That's the type of drink more likely to be served at a farm-to-table restaurant than in a school cafeteria, but for students at Bluffton-Harrison Elementary School in Bluffton, Indiana, infused water is a lunchtime staple. And it's helping not only to make school lunches healthier, but the better-for-you drink also teaches kids about fruits and vegetables while reducing food waste.
"It's visually appealing and we've seen an increase in the amount of water students are drinking," says Lori Taylor of Produce Moms®, which works with the USDA and more than 200 school districts in 39 states to increase the consumption of fresh produce in school meals and provide culinary skills to food service workers.
The idea is simple, yet revolutionary. Food service workers at the elementary school use fresh herbs and fruits to create different combinations of infused water. Most of the herbs are cut right from the school's container herb garden. The fruits and vegetables used are often ones that have already been cut but now instead of being tossed in the trash at the end of lunch they are used as infusions for the next day's water service.
A free water station—think of it like your office coffee station—is set out during lunch service and it features a few infused water combinations in addition to one plain H20 dispenser. The water setup helps to create a sense of school community; students can stop, grab a drink, learn about the fruits, vegetables, and herbs being used, and connect with other classmates. Prior to setting up the water stations the school only served bottled water that students had to purchase. Now the school goes through about 80 gallons of water in a week of lunches.
"It's been successful because it's so highly adaptable and impactful," says Taylor. "There's no wrong way to do this. You can use whatever combination of fruits, vegetables and herbs you want and it gets kids coming back every day."