Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Getting to the Root of Healthy Eating

Photograph by Robert Abrams

This post was written by  Cara Plott, a FoodCorps service member serving with Bronx Health REACH. She is partnering with The Family School in the Bronx, NY to integrate garden and nutrition lessons into classes, promote healthy food options in the cafeteria, and support a school wide culture of health. She is very grateful for the opportunity to work with The Family School, where teachers, administration, cafeteria staff, and students appreciate the importance of healthy bodies and healthy minds for learning and growing. 

Crunching sounds and smiles filled the cafeteria at The Family School during our school wide taste test of multicolored carrots, juicy apples and crispy Asian pears grown on farms in New York and Pennsylvania. The program was sponsored by the New York City Department of Education Office of SchoolFood’s Garden to Cafe program.

The students at The Family School are especially appreciative of the work that goes into growing fruits and vegetables because many of them are gardeners themselves. Students ranging in age from kindergarten to 5th grade are currently growing a multitude of crops including radishes, lettuce, kale, and sunflower sprouts in our school garden.

Preparations for the event began early in the morning. Holly and George, the Garden to Cafe team, washed, chopped and arranged the produce. Their beautiful display was lit by the natural sunlight from the tall cafeteria windows, bringing out the deep purple, vibrant orange, and subtle yellow shades of the carrots, apples, and pears.

Of course, no matter how pretty the produce looks, a taste test is only a success if students actually want to eat the food! That is where our student Wellness Ambassadors come to the rescue. Our Wellness Ambassadors were 2nd and 5th grade students nominated by their teachers to help support their peers in making healthy choices.  As a FoodCorps service member, I have had more than a little experience encouraging students to try new foods, and these Wellness Ambassadors were naturals! Donning their Wellness Ambassador pins (designed by a Family School student) and food service gloves, these students encouraged their friends and peers to take a taste of the produce as they passed it out. Questioning why purple carrots are purple? Not sure about whether you are ready to try something that you have never seen before? No problem! As I carried the tray while the Wellness Ambassadors passed them out, the samples flew off the tray so quickly I soon had to go back for a refill.

Now, the question you have been waiting to ask - did the students like the carrots, apples and pears? The answer was a resounding YES! After the taste test, some of the students who tried the produce had the opportunity to vote. The results speak for themselves.

Photograph by Robert Abrams
After tasting the apples, carrots, and pears, students sticker voted on what they liked or did not like yet.

Often, popular culture would have us believe that getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables is some kind of epic battle. However, those of us at The Family School last week experienced something far from this. Yes, some foods take a bit longer to grow on us than others, but through small exposures to new colors, textures, and tastes, kids can develop an excitement and appreciation for the foods that will empower them, not slow them down. Through school wide taste tests like this one we not only work towards normalizing fruits and vegetables, but spark conversations about where our food comes from, how it affects our bodies, and what we choose to do with the energy we derive from it. Rather than feeding into the “kids don’t like vegetables” stereotype, we need to think outside the box, such as empowering students to support each other in making healthy choices. Their health and future depend on it.

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