“Hey! You are the teacher that helps us not to be afraid of trying new foods!”
I hear these words from a sweet five year old girl, “Alice.” She is proudly holding a piece of pear in her hand as I mill through the lunch room, encouraging students to try our new menu item, tabbouleh.
Her statement alone warms my heart, but the fact that this specific girl said those words makes me feel like my nutrition education efforts in the classroom are beginning to make a difference. One of the main driving factors for leading a 6-week lesson series with the Kindergarteners, The Two Bite Club, was because of little “Alice.” Teachers were concerned that she wasn’t eating enough at lunch and that she seemed nervous or afraid of trying the foods offered at school. I didn’t exactly blame her; the food service staff and I ;have been introducing some items to the lunch menu that perhaps are not average Montana fare, such as jicama, pitas, hummus, and lentil accented sloppy joes. I had an idea: why not try to make trying new foods fun, in a safe, friendly environment?
Each week I visited the Kindergarten class and introduced a new food group from MyPlate while reading the story, The Two Bite Club. This provided a space for us to talk about how trying new foods can be scary; that some foods look weird, or silly, or maybe even not very tasty. But we were going on an adventure to try some new foods together, as a whole class!
I wanted our Kindergarten class to feel comfortable and to know that it is definitely okay if they don’t like something after they try it.
We were going to be explorers, investigating MyPlate each week to possibly discover a new food we liked! We sampled cheeses, popped our own popcorn, made a protein packed crazy monkey smoothie, created a veggie turkey out of strips of carrots, peppers, and cucumbers, and even got to cut up a pineapple! Each week we would take TWO little bites to see if it tasted okay to us, then decided if we liked it or not, and if we wanted more or not.
On the final day of class we made our crazy monkey smoothie. I had all of the ingredients set up on a table for students to see and categorize into appropriate food groups; we had bananas, cocoa, milk, peanut butter, and honey. When we arrived on honey, we had the opportunity to talk about “sometimes foods” and “always foods” since honey does not necessarily fit into MyPlate.
When I asked the Kindergarteners what the word “always” meant, I called on a girl who matter-of-factly replied, “Always is, you will always be my best friend forever.” I’m pretty sure Kindergarteners are the best.
My goal for this class series was not necessarily to make best friends, although that was a happy side effect. What I really wanted to accomplish was to introduce students to the food groups and to provide a positive, safe space to sample new foods. As a five year old, school is a whole new big, wide world. There are all these new and confusing things, such as learning what it means to “line up,” remembering that scissors are for cutting paper (not bangs), discovering that chewing gum found under the play ground slide isn’t really okay to put in your mouth, and on top of it all, there is a big lunch room where they are served some foods they may have never seen before in their short lives. These Two Bite Club classes were a fun opportunity for Kindergarten students to gain some confidence in the food realm and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they were able to decide if they liked or disliked a new food after trying it.
Taking two bites of a new food may seem like a small feat to some, but the sense of confidence that twinkles from a five year-old’s eyes after he or she announces whether or not a food is to their preference is definitely a beautiful thing to witness.
Written by FoodCorps service member Camille McGoven serving in Boulder, Montana