One of the most successful programs the Wellness Committee and I started at my daughter’s elementary school are the Vegetable Tastings. We felt they were having a big impact, but we didn’t realize just how big until this past week when a Columbia graduate student, Rosara Milstein, measured the results for her doctoral thesis.
I think of the tasting program as “vegetable marketing”- where we, literally, aim to attract students to vegetables. By introducing children to a vegetable in multiple ways we generate excitement and get students to eat more of it.
There are 5 basic steps:
1. 10 minute Veggie-Byte
Wellness Committee members lead a short in-class education session where we bring different varieties of the vegetable (ie: purple cauliflower, romesco cauliflower, white cauliflower) and allow the children to touch and explore the produce. We generate discussions about whether they have eaten it before, how they eat it at home, why it is good for you, etc. We also talk about how it grows and relate it back to their science curriculum. We let the children know to look out for a special tasting of the vegetable (ie: roasted cauliflower) in the lunchroom in the next few days.
2. Parent Outreach
A parent letter is sent home in each child’s backpack explaining the vegetable we discussed and encouraging caregivers to serve the vegetable at home, ideally involving the child in the preparation.
3. Good Food Ambassadors
We seek children to volunteer as “Good Food Ambassadors” who make posters promoting the vegetable to be tasted. Their colorful creations are posted all around the school.
4. Lunchroom Tasting
Parents, community volunteers and School Food professionals prepare the vegetable and walk around the lunchroom serving it in little tasting cups. Tastes are encouraged, but never forced. We get feedback and let the children know the vegetable will be served on the regular menu in a few days.
5. Vegetable Served on Regular Menu
Two or three days later the selected vegetable is served on the regular lunch menu.
Each time we have done this I have been amazed and delighted at the enthusiasm the children have when talking about the vegetable. They are so excited to see us in the lunch room serving them a special tasting. Sure, not every child likes the vegetable, but we always applaud them for trying it. I am amazed at how many of them taste it only after seeing their peers enjoy it. My favorite part is watching the tentative, skeptical faces turn into smiles and requests for seconds.
Now we know the numbers justify what we suspected all along. Rosara’s research focused on the 4th grade and involved a tasting of red bell peppers from the salad bar. On the day she measured for the pretest, only 4 children in the whole grade took peppers. Two days after the Vegetable Tasting program when she measured again, a whopping 30 children voluntarily took peppers – the staff had to refill the pepper tray!
I encourage you to try this program at your community school. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it. If you do, let me know how it turns out!