The U.S. Apple Association is thrilled to be celebrating the kickoff of Apples4Ed—a grant program that supports healthy snacking initiatives in public schools across the United States.

October is National Apple Month, which is the perfect time during peak harvest and a fresh start to the school year to encourage healthy snacking habits. USApple is proud to partner with the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) to present five $4,000 grants to public schools with students enrolled in any grade from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Winners will be selected by a panel of judges from USApple, SNA, and NASDA in the spring of 2019. Applications are evaluated based on their creativity, potential for student impact and use of existing resources to sustain the initiative into the future.

The grant program is designed for school communities to implement healthy snacking initiatives in creative ways that support the needs of their unique students and communities. By utilizing and enhancing existing resources and curricular opportunities that teach the importance of healthy choices to students in a relatable and memorable way, Apples4Ed can help to support the amazing work educators and volunteers are already doing to help students develop and practice healthy eating habits.

With this year’s Apples4Ed campaign, we encourage students to think about their long-term life goals. Consider the classic question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While we often expect students to describe their hopes and dreams of pursuing a specific career path or area of interest when asked that question, this year, we hope to foster conversations in schools that show the importance of healthy eating habits and choices to long-term success in other areas of adult life.

We know that apples are a healthy and nutritious fruit that can have substantial health benefits when they are a regular part of your diet for an extended period. We hope to prepare today’s generation of students to make the healthiest possible food choices, and to learn about the benefits of eating nutritious food—like apples—from an early age and to understand the impact healthy eating can have on their futures. Not only do they benefit in the short term from nutritionally-rich foods that help them stay focused, but also build the habit of choosing healthy snacks—a valuable skill that will serve them well beyond their school days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly four in 10 adults living in the United States are affected by obesity, which is associated with an increased risk of developing numerous health complications—including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The number of children affected by obesity is also on the rise. From 2015-2016, the CDC reported that 18.4 percent of 6 to 11-year-olds and 20.6 percent of 12 to 19-year-olds were obese. By helping students practice healthy eating habits and maintaining a healthy lifestyle during childhood and adolescence, they are more likely to sustain those habits and keep a healthy weight as adults, reducing their risk factors for cardiovascular and other diseases later in life. The CDC also estimates that children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults compared to normal-weight children. Schools can play an active role in helping to shape and reinforce healthy habits during a formative stage of development.

From reducing the risks of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease to improving your immunity and gut health, apples can have significant benefits when you make them a regular part of your diet. Long-term benefits include trimmer waistlines, lower blood pressure, stronger bones, and improved digestion. By adding more opportunities at school to add healthy foods like fresh apples to their diets and learning about the long-term benefits of healthy habits, schools can help to mitigate the effects of unhealthy food environments for their students.

A recent report from the Harvard School of Public Health emphasizes the importance of making healthy foods the easy, accessible choice. When convenience, cost and prevalence of low-nutrition foods make them the only feasible option in many areas throughout the country, helping schools strengthen their efforts to help students practice making healthy choices whenever possible and providing nutritious options for students is critical.

Many schools across the country are already doing amazing work to provide healthier food environments for their students, and to reinforce healthy habits. USApple is excited to support their efforts and to help bring ideas happening at the school community level to fruition, so that students, teachers and broader school communities can be supported in the way that makes the most sense for their unique needs.

Last year’s winning Apples4Ed submissions included St. Martin North Elementary in Biloxi, Mississippi, where more than 79 percent of students receive free lunch every day, and many of whom depend on school to supplement their diet with fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables. St. Martin North’s Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent and Principal proposed starting a healthy snack pantry with an education component to help students learn more about the importance of healthy eating habits.

Other winning submissions included P811X, a special education high school located in the South Bronx. With a program to teach students about the nutritional value of snack items and a mobile health cart with fresh fruits and vegetables, P811X’s Academy for Career and Living Skills helps high school students to understand the connection between healthy eating and healthy minds. By helping students to focus on their caloric intake and recognize connections between sugar intake and their mood and energy levels, they help students to build a foundation for healthier long-term habits and foster self-awareness.

The final award was presented to East Elementary in Jackson, Missouri, to support the purchase of a Charlie Cart—a hands-on mobile kitchen classroom that facilitates nutritional education, so students understand where their food comes from and prepare healthy snacks. These submissions are excellent examples of administrators finding ways to support long-term healthy habits in their school communities and developing plans that will support and integrate with the unique culture of their schools and the needs of their students.

A lifelong healthy diet—and habits that contribute to a healthy diet, like practicing choosing healthy foods over unhealthy alternatives—can be one of the most valuable lessons that students learn in school. Many schools serve as a critical source of nutrition for students, and Apples4Ed supports schools as they help students develop lifelong healthy habits. We’re proud to support educators who dedicate themselves to improving the lives of their students in the present and for their futures—learning to take care of themselves with a healthy diet is just one small way that teachers and school administrators leave a lasting and important impression on their students.

Are you an educator, or do you know an educator whose students could benefit from a healthy snacking initiative? Visit Apples4Ed.com to learn more and submit your school.