Leah West, 10, a fifth-grade student at Top of the World Elementary School, hands out Comice pears during a taste test at recess on Tuesday. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Coastline Pilot / November 7, 2013)

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Megan Hartshorne had a captive audience on the blacktop at Top of the World Elementary School Tuesday.

Students could get a fruit pick-me-up during their mid-morning break from a bowlful of chopped Comice pears Hartshorne, a registered dietitian and Laguna Beach Unified School District nutrition consultant, set up on a cart.

The Harvest of the Month is a once-per-month opportunity for kids to sample a seasonal fruit or vegetable. The California Department of Public Health developed the program as part of its Network for a Healthy California initiative, which emphasizes the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and regular exercise.

In addition to tasting a piece of pear, students received a form that contained healthy serving ideas, the fruit's nutrition information, and a recipe for a cobbler using canned sliced pears and peaches.

One idea is to cut a pear in half, remove the core, and fill the center with peanut butter or yogurt and sprinkle granola on top.

The setting, when students are around their friends during recess, is an inviting environment to try both familiar and maybe not-so-recognizable produce, Hartshorne said.

Last month Hartshorne gave jicama to the students in two forms: plain and sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder.

"You don't want a lot of pressure when they're trying something new," Hartshorne said. "[Kindergarten through fifth grade] is when food exposure is important."

A helpful way to introduce a food to a child for the first time, or try giving a student a familiar fruit, is cutting the vegetable or fruit in different shapes and sizes, Hartshorne said.

Groups of 20 to 30 students at a time stood in a line, waiting for a bite of pear. Hartshorne held a poster board that had a diagram of a pear, along with descriptions for two different varieties.

Fifth-graders Sage Miller and Leah West helped by handing out pear pieces to eager eaters.

"I like everything," Miller said when asked to declare her favorite fruit.

Pears, like all Harvest of the Month foods, will be part of the school's salad bar the week after the tasting.

Students aren't the only ones who like the monthly tastings, which Hartshorne also does at El Morro Elementary School.

Fourth-grade teacher Azadeh Baghai didn't know what jicama looked like until last month's tasting. Now it's one of her favorites.

"I have it every day," Baghai said. "I put it in my lunch instead of chips."

Kiwi will be December's featured fruit, Hartshorne said.