(March 5) The age-old dinnertime struggle between parents and kids over the latter eating their vegetables has been around as long as, well, there have been parents and kids.

Now, with the help of some inducements — namely sportswear, sports equipment and some even more compelling merchandise — a school foodservice operation and a produce company appear to have come up with a solution to the age-old dilemma.

The Kid.fit program, a product of Boston-based Costa Fruit & Produce Co., beckons students at the middle school in Lynnfield, Mass., to a wide array of menu items that are bursting with nutrition.

The students see walls adorned with Kid.fit posters featuring fruits, vegetables, nutritional messages and — perhaps most importantly — some concrete rewards for giving those products a try.

The program, launched in January as a test at that single 600-student school, is still too new to have produced any quantifiable results. But school district officials and Manny Costa, president and chief executive officer at Costa Produce, agree it has been a rousing success.

They are hardly pioneers, at least in a narrow sense. Fruits and vegetables have been finding their way to school cafeterias for years, but Costa and his colleagues are certainly blazing a new trail by drawing an enthusiastic following among students.

There is encouraging news elsewhere, as well. The Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation is conducting a pilot program called Eat Your Colors Every Day, which provides fruits, vegetables and salads to students in several Florida school districts. The program, now in its second year, already is beginning to spread to other states.

While not based so much on the carrot-and-stick approach of Kid.fit, PBH’s model also has shown enough positive results that the foundation is fielding inquiries from school districts from coast to coast.

Whatever the strategy, whether informational or reward-based, anything that will help kids to make healthful meal and snack choices is a step in the right direction.

Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. Whatever ammunition schools, government and the private sector can come up with to fight this war is welcome, indeed. If fruits and vegetables can be of service, it’s all the better.

These types of efforts might be all the impetus needed for nudging the U.S. government to expand the $6 million school pilot program that, courtesy of the 2002 farm bill, authorized free fruit and vegetable distribution in 106 schools in four states and on a New Mexico Indian reservation. Legislation expanding the program has been stalled by congressional inaction on the child nutrition reauthorization.

School districts and produce suppliers nationwide should watch these programs closely. Success would not only bring the potential for long-term profits for the companies but, more important, trimmer, healthier kids.