The mothers loaded their trays with paper cups, each containing this month's lunchtime treat: raspberries and cucumbers. A few Darby Creek Elementary students didn't bother waiting. "Raspberries are awesome," said second-grader Winston Stone, 7.

The Hilliard school kicked off its "Take a Taste" program last month, giving kids a chance to sample fruits and vegetables. The program, which runs monthly through April, offers kids at six elementary schools a taste of healthful foods they might not typically find in a snack pack, said Dave Wilson, the district's food-service director. "It's not about providing these options at school," he said. "It's about introducing them to fruits and vegetables to try and see if they like it." Apparently, it's working.

A survey taken last year found that 40 percent of parents said their kids asked for more fruits and veggies in their diet, Wilson said. At Norwich Elementary, where the program started three years ago, 65 percent of parents said their kids asked them to buy fruits and vegetables they sampled through the program. "It's a budding awareness," said Mary Chace, the wellness coordinator for Norwich's parent-teacher group.

Chace also works with nine schools that have received wellness grants through Ohio Action for Healthy Kids, part of a national initiative to increase nutrition, health education and physical activity for children. "

"Schools are becoming aware of the connection between health and academics," she said. "The healthier the kids are, the better they do in school." Chace said the next step at Norwich is to integrate nutrition lessons into the classroom. Wilson said the money for the fruit and vegetables comes from the food-service budget.

Fruit and veggies were not a tough sell for Darby Creek's students. During a recent lunch, students chose bananas and oranges over cookies. Some had cantaloupe, watermelon, broccoli and dried cranberries packed in their bags. Fifth-grader Amelia Willis used a spoon to eat the pulp from her kiwi halves. "I like things that most kids don't like," the 10-year-old said. "I like asparagus."

Fourth-grader Alex Domitrovic, 9, picked up a cup of raspberries but didn't eat any. "I didn't like it," he said. Had he ever tried them? No, he said.