Imagine volunteers in an elementary school lunchroom telling children,"No, you cannot have a third serving of edamame (or raw sweet potato spiral, purple topped turnip stick, pinto bean pinwheel or super sweet spinach) because we need to save some for the other kids.''
This isn’t a dream – volunteers in the District's six elementary schools have the opportunity seven times each year to expose all students, even children who are eating cold lunches that day, to fresh, locally grown foods in a fun and playful way through the Farm to School Taste Test program.
Research shows that exposure to new foods in a fun, experiential way increases positive attitudes toward trying all new foods. District lunchrooms are an extension of the classrooms, helping children cultivate healthy attitudes toward food that are often encouraged by their own peers.
Many volunteers who have helped with the Farm to School program have heard a child say no to a food only to return a few minutes later with a friend who loves red bell peppers and wants to give them a try. Volunteers encourage children to give it a try and engage them in discussions of taste, texture and color.
The kitchen always sends a whole version of the item – when we tasted cream of celeriac and apple soup, the kids got to see a whole celeriac – which won ugliest vegetable ever.
Many children and adults have not seen a whole purple-topped turnip, sweet potato or uncooked pinto beans. Each school finds ways for the children to "vote" on the taste test either with white board tally’s, stickers or clapping.
The Farm to School Taste Test program has three goals:
- For our students: expose students to fresh, seasonal foods in an engaging way that builds curiosity and knowledge.
- For our parents: encourage parents to offer new and locally sourced foods to their kids at home and in lunchboxes through timely, succinct communications.
- For our schools: incorporate fresh, locally sourced foods into the school menus through testing of new foods in the lunchroom and by building relationships with local farmers.
A favorite example of success is when a volunteer was called by a parent to ask where she could find Beauty Heart radishes (radishes with a green exterior and a vibrant pink interior) because her daughter wanted to served them at her birthday party. Or when the whole lunchroom erupted into a cheer when a sweet potato was spiralized into a 4-foot long string.
Examples of successes incorporating local foods into our menus are the whole apples from Lapacek Orchard, veggies and beans in the Minestrone soup and squash and apples in the Squapple Crisp.
The program is funded by the parent organizations at each school. For 20 cents per child, the program is able to reach every elementary school child in the District with the vegetables, as well as posters, announcements and e-news blasts.
Each month there is a buzz of excitement as kids and teachers gather for lunch to see what the taste test item will be. Whether they try the food or not, each child hears a morning announcement and is part of the fun and learning in the lunchroom.
Two parent coordinators work with a team of volunteers from each school and the Nutrition Services department to plan and execute the program. If you would like to volunteer for the Taste Tests next year in your school, assist with developing marketing materials or sourcing product, or are a registered dietician or parent of a child with allergies that would like to help with planning, please e-mail Alicia Meyer.