What do I love most about working with kids? They’re honest. When they think your food samples smell funny, they let you know. If you draw a mango tree and they think it’s beautiful, they tell you. They express their feelings in the most genuine way that even when the comment is negative you appreciate they’re telling the truth. If a student is not telling you how they feel, you usually have a pretty good idea by the look on their face.
I have to admit, I would have been considered a picky eater growing up. Chicken nuggets and fries were my top choice whether I was at home, on the road, or even in an Italian restaurant. My parents never gave up, and continually exposed me to new foods. A strange smell or weird color could easily sway me to stay away from a fruit, vegetable, or even a whole meal. You can ask them, I often reacted by scrunching my nose or raising my eyebrows. I try to remember my own experiences when I talk to students about trying new things, and share my story so they understand I wasn’t always the fruit and vegetable girl. Since I’ve been honest about when I was a kid, I know I’ve earned a bit of trust in the elementary school, and I see students trying new foods more than ever before.
The kids at NFV have become amazing and enthusiastic taste-testers. In the beginning of the year I made sure to always bring my tasting rules to class, but now they remember them and tell each other “Maria’s Rules.” New foods can be intimidating, but in class we take it one step at a time. I usually explain what the food is, how it’s grown, where it comes from, why it’s good for you, and how I prepared it. Then we count to three and experience the food all together. Last, we vote. This is a process that is great to replicate at home!
I usually have a good idea how a taste-test will go based on the fruit or vegetable I’m bringing. I didn’t expect a fourth grader who was trying a fresh raspberry for the first time to tell me it was “fuzzy” and “hairy”, but that remains one of my favorite moments. I try to balance “tougher” new foods (roasted chickpeas, butternut squash soup) with some that may go a little bit easier (rainbow carrots, mangoes). It took me a while to figure it out, but the point of taste tests are not necessarily to find new foods that the whole class loves. One student might say that the chickpeas are “weird and mushy” and another may call them the “most famous chickpeas in the world”, but the real win here is that both the students tried them and described how they felt. It took me a few months, but now I know the point of taste-tests are to expose students to something new, encourage them to try it, and let them evaluate and express their opinion about it in an honest and respectful way.