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DILLSBURG, PA -- In its sixth year, Apple Crunch -- sponsored by the Center for Nutrition & Activity Promotion at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and supported by the National Apple Month program, the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board and Appeeling Fruit -- had schools in the mid-Atlantic region munching on apples.

Apple Crunch is celebrated during National Apple Month and is designed to encourage youth, families, schools and communities to make the apple, and other fruits and vegetables, a regular part of a nutritious diet, with an emphasis on snacking. The one-day promotion was held Oct. 28, and schools along with community wellness programs embraced the opportunity to showcase America's favorite fruit, apples.

This year, more than 1 million school students participated in the promotion, and schools that featured apples on their foodservice menus saw positive student participation in school lunch. By featuring apples and apple products on the menu, school foodservices became eligible to compete for cash prizes. Earning a prize means that the four winning schools districts have a few extra dollars for their foodservice operation.

This year's winners of the foodservice prizes provided a multitude of apples and apple products on their menus and cafeteria activities that encouraged additional student participation in the school lunch program.

The 2009 first-place winner was Upper Adams School District in Biglerville, PA. School Foodservice Director Laurie Altland featured at least one apple or processed apple item every week on the menus for elementary, middle and high school students leading up to the official Apple Crunch celebration. Additionally, the schools posted materials in the cafeterias that identified the many varieties of apples; distributed a handout to students that addressed nutritional information, healthy eating and a recipe; and hosted a visit from the Pennsylvania apple queen, who participated in apple sampling and the reading of apple stories to younger students. Kim Cless, cafeteria team leader at an elementary school in the district, said that the school had success working with a local market that donated more than 500 apples for student enjoyment during the Apple Crunch event.

At the Milton Area School District in Milton, PA, the second-place winner of the foodservice promotional event, Sharon Adami, foodservice director, planned at least one apple or apple product item on the menu for each week leading up to the event. On Apple Crunch day, students were served fresh- cut sliced apples as part of their lunch. Additionally, teachers and students incorporated apples into the many classroom activities planned for the day. Third-place and fourth-place winners were Carbondale Area School District in Carbondale, PA, and The Bradley Center in Pittsburgh.

The winners will receive cash prizes for their extraordinary efforts in merchandising and promoting apples in the school foodservice venue.

"This is the ideal promotion for educating students on healthy eating and the role that apples can play in the diet," NAM Director Kay Rentzel said in a Dec. 8 press release. "School foodservice is a valuable tool for reaching the students. Apples and apple products are very popular on the menus, so it is a win-win for everyone."

While the Apple Crunch promotion has its roots in the mid-Atlantic region, the event is open to all schools and community health organizations across the country. Details on the 2010 promotion will be announced in May.