Ready, Set, Blend—Engaging Kids to Eat Healthy, Local Foods throughout the Summer

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“Who wants to make a smoothie?”, I asked a group of kids outside the Chapel Ridge Apartment Complex, a free summer meal site in Johnston. Their hands shot up to the sky. “But how will we make it? There’s no electricity,” pointed out one of the kids. I looked at him and smiled, “Hop on the bike and you’ll see!” I could see the confusion on their faces as they looked from the blender to the bike and then back again. Slowly it began to click, and their eyes lit up as they anxiously lined up to see the blender bike in action.

This summer, Eat Greater Des Moines is working in collaboration with Summer Meal Meet-Ups (part of United Way of Central Iowa’s OpportUNITY initiative) to bring programming to five free meal sites throughout the metro.

More than 40,000 students in central Iowa qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. However, only 3,000 children take advantage of the free meals that are offered in the summer. How can we increase participation and ensure that every child has access to food year-round? Make it fun and interactive!

Cue the blender bike!

“Lots of kids like to eat junk food, but with the blender bike we are able to shift their perceptions about healthy food,” said Ungwa Itabelo, a summer volunteer with Eat Greater Des Moines. “The more fun they have making the snacks, the more they are willing to try things that they might not have before, like spinach or kale.”
Our mission at Eat Greater Des Moines is to connect all Iowans to locally grown, healthy food through programs like Double Up Food Bucks. The blender bike has allowed us to engage and educate both the youth and families that come to the summer meal sites about the Double Up Food Bucks Program.

What is Double Up Food Bucks?

The Double Up Food Bucks program (DUFB) works to incentivize the consumption of fresh, local produce to SNAP/EBT participants. It’s easy: Each time you use your SNAP/EBT card at participating farmers’ markets, grocery stores, or farm stands, Double Up Food Bucks will match your purchase. For example, when you spend $5 on your SNAP/EBT card, you get $5 of Double Up bucks to be spent on fruits and veggies. You can earn up to $10 of Double Up bucks each day!

The wins for the community are three-fold:

  • 1. low-income families eat healthier food
  • 2. local farmers gain new customers
  • 3. more food dollars stay in the local economy

Eat Greater Des Moines partners with the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, which oversees the program statewide, to support the 13 DUFB locations in central Iowa.

Ready, set, blend!

At each blender bike event, we promote our local Double Up Food Bucks farm-stands and markets, like DogPatch Urban Gardens, by incorporating seasonal fruits and veggies in our recipes. So far this summer, we have made “Berry Green Smoothies” with local spinach and strawberries and “Summer Salsa” with local tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro.

The blender bike never fails to peak the interest of people of all ages and becomes the center of attention the instant someone starts to pedal.

“We have kids jumping for joy when they get to try out the bike themselves and they are just as excited when they realize how good fresh and local foods can taste,” said Ungwa, “Lots of kids run to their parents and tell them they want to make our smoothies or salsa at home!”

Eat Greater Des Moines is excited to continue to grow participation and expansion of the Double Up Food Bucks Program in the next year by partnering with organizations and initiatives across the metro area to make fresh, healthy, and local foods accessible to all

Emma Gellerstedt

Emma Gellerstedt

Eat Greater Des Moines Intern