A week from today, children’s plates will be piled high with turkey, dressing and some food items they may find tough to identify, much less eat. Could those mounds be — gulp — vegetables?

A week from today, children’s plates will be piled high with turkey, dressing and some food items they may find tough to identify, much less eat.

Could those mounds be — gulp — vegetables?

No offense to sweet potato casserole lovers out there, but there’s a whole world of goodness kids don’t know about. A once-a-year appearance of green, leafy and deeply colored stuff on the Thanksgiving plate is not enough.

That’s why we’re excited about a new program at Loves Park Elementary with the goal of exposing more schoolchildren to fruits and vegetables. The school has joined 38 other Illinois schools in the state’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The Illinois State Board of Education announced the grants earlier this month.

Harlem School District officials plan to expand the program districtwide, and we commend them for that. The emphasis will be on experimenting with fruits and vegetables that students might not have tried, and doing the introductions separately from the regular breakfast and lunch meal times.

Nutritionists know the picky eater often suffers from a lack of exposure more than an overly sensitive palate. Serve nutritious food — including fruits and vegetables — often enough, and kids stop complaining and begin to enjoy what was once unfamiliar and yucky. Healthy snacking becomes a habit.

But skeptics say schools should call off the food police. The argument is that there’s only so much schools can do when kids are eating junk food at home.

There’s truth to that.

We think California, for example, has gone way too far by passing laws that limit snacks sold during the school day to no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and 35 percent fat calories (oh, yes, and don’t exceed 10 percent saturated fat).

The new guidelines in California have forced school bake sales across the street. That’s silly.

Even so, schools cannot pay lip service in health class to the value of good menu choices and then, at lunchtime, put out an array of nasty-for-you entrées like nachos with cheese sauce and chili with Fritos.

Schools have made progress, though, and not just Loves Park Elementary. The Rockford School District last year phased out 2 percent milk in favor of skim and 1 percent. Students who buy school lunch get a piece of fruit free, care of the federal government commodities program.

Chris Saletta, director of food service for the Rockford district, said she would look into the state’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to see if Rockford would meet the guidelines. That’s good.

The status quo for too many kids is not healthy.

Studies show one in three children in the United States is overweight. Health problems such as high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which used to be adult disorders, are now showing up in children. And no wonder. One-quarter of all vegetables eaten by elementary students are french fries, while most kids don’t eat any fruit on a given day. Those stats are courtesy of Fruits & Veggies — More Matters, a national public health initiative for which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a primary partner.

We aren’t under any illusion that kale will become a snack food of choice for the playground set. But whatever it takes to get kids off the junk food merry-go-round, we’re all for.

Rockford Register Star