One student, one large salad, one vegetable breakthrough

I made a salad with my students. I was inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution when he had students identify vegetables or not identify them as the case may be (episode one). As you can imagine I really enjoy that show.

I brought in bags of lettuce, whole tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, and shredded carrots. Also a couple large bowls, a large cutting board, a knife, and tongs. It was at the end of the day so the kids might have been a little hungry or at least ready for a snack.

Everyone got a job (passing out forks, plates, even napkins this time) and I involved as many as I could in food prep. We dumped the lettuce into the bowls as well as the shredded carrots. To chop up the broccoli, tomatoes, and cucumbers, I did some hand-over-hand while holding a knife. The kids approached the tomato as if to stab in “psycho-style.” With hand-over-hand instruction they figured out  how to cut into it the right way. I was amazed both by how unfamilar they were with proper knife use and then by how quickly they learned how to hold it properly for efficient cutting.

We got a little salad on everyone’s plates. I also had full-fat Ranch dressing to help things along and that got passed around.

I mostly saw grimaces although one student dived right in before I said “Let’s eat.” I gave them one instruction, “I’d like it if you tried every vegetable.” I would never force food on anyone so instead I quietly encouraged. The kids started gnawing on the shredded carrots immediately. Not every child tried every vegetable and a few didn’t eat anything.

But there was this one kid. He told me, “I don’t like lettuce, broccoli, tomato, or cucumber.” I said, “Well, I’d like you to try each one again… Just to make sure.” So he bit into the tomato first. I left him mid-bite and came back a short while later to see him chomping into the cucumber and then on my third trip around his chair, he was trying the broccoli.

I saw that he had made a dent in his salad. I asked him, “Did you like what you ate?”

“I like tomato and cucumber.”

I was pretty thrilled. Most of the kids didn’t have vegetable breakthroughs that day (and I believe you need to eat something more than 10 times to develop an opinion on it). Only the student who started eating before I said “go” wanted seconds.

But one kid’s mind had changed. Can you imagine if one student changed their mind in every classroom? In every school? In every state? And if it happened every day? Could we reverse current obesity trends and help all kids make better choices one child at a time? A teacher can dream.

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60 thoughts on “One student, one large salad, one vegetable breakthrough”

  1. I think that's great. I also think its great that you showed them how to use kitchen utensils (although not sure how the school board might feel about the knife!) One thing that utterly blew my mind on Jamie's show was the revelation that those kids don't use forks or knives (even the plastic kind) until they're 10! Judging by what was going on in the cafeteria that first day they were given cutlery indicates that most of them don't use forks or knives at home either — so what on earth are they eating at *home*? Clearly anything that can be eaten with your hands, and probably not much more than that.

    My baby cousin was using a plastic knife before she was four — probably not very well but her mum definitely believes in giving her an introduction to the most basic social skills early on, which includes being able to eat food in public.

  2. Wonderful! Thanks for doing that- I wish there were more funding for this kind of thing so that every teacher could do this type of thing on a regular basis. I teach college writing, and we always make apple crisp in the crockpot as an example of process.

  3. One thing I dislike about the 'food revolution' show and similar things is that It seems to be all about finding a few super unhealthy families and kids, and then congratulating ourselves that we are not "them". In actuality I believe that there are relatively few super unhealthy families and kids (e.g. kids that have never eaten salad or anything that requires a fork before the age of 10) and way more kids and families that simply eat too much dessert, and don't exercise enough. The 30% obesity rate in this country suggests that MOST of us ARE the problem.

  4. What a great lesson for the kids! So simple and yet something that can change their outlook on food for the rest of their lives.

  5. Just curious really, (don't want this to be taken in an accusatory tone) but do you have information on all of your student's food allergies? For example I know that my sister has dangerous allergies to many fruits/vegetables, cucumber being among them.

  6. That is amazing, I hope that you continue to teach your children and by taking one step in the right direction you will continue to change lives. Teachers are amazing people, continue to spread your word and people will follow.

    Congratulations on being a leader.

  7. Perhaps you've addressed this in an earlier post, but is there a possiblity for even a small school garden? Even a container with a tomato plant? I've heard many parents say their kids are much more open to trying vegetables they've grown themselves. I know I am! 🙂 Kudos to you for this whole project (found you through the NY Times, how impressive is that?)

  8. Kudos to you Mrs. Q.I think part of the problem is that kids see way to many adults cringe at fruits and especially vegetables, like they are something to fear and must be avoided!
    My kids now 20 and 24 were never forbidden to eat anything including sweets, i never made anything a must or must not. And thankfully they both grew up liking alot of fruit and veggies. If more families served a variety of foods at home in a matter of fact way and not like some big deal i think kids would not have so many food fears! Your class should not have made grimace faces at the sight of a salad, how sad.Just my humble opinion. FYI to parents my daughter always prefers raw veggies to cooked, make sure they see both.
    PS i was talking to my daughter about her school lunches and they were all cooked on sight and for the most part pretty good. She said the tomato soup and grilled cheese (which i am sure didn't look like yours) was one of her favoites in middle school, sadly i never see you get soup Mrs. Q., although she said it was hard to eat soup with the infamous SPORK!

  9. I just found your blog today…

    Today was my first day of "no more school lunches". I have three children, and we are all trying to transform to a healthy lifestyle. I have tried to do it solo, but what good is feeding yourself nourishing food if you are feeding your kids crap?

    I look forward to catching up!

  10. This one gave me chills! Good job, teacher!
    I've heard about teachers making pizzas with their kids with vegetables of many colors etc.

    I'm always amazed at what my kids will and won't eat (mostly won't – like any meat at all). I make a soup that I saw Giada make on TV that is so spectacular and it's one of the only things my entire family of 4 will eat – other than pizza. It's called Italian Vegetable Soup but it only has 7 or 8 ingredients in it. It's super savory and yummy – I wonder if you made it for your class they'd like it?
    I make it with chicken broth instead of vegetable. If nothing else, make it for your family – everyone loves this stuff!

  11. Good for you! What a great idea. I know that's how I've gotten my 2-year old accustomed to eating a wide array of foods. He "helps" me with dinner almost every night and loves every minute of it (I do too!).

  12. Nice, Mrs. Q. I think one of the most important things you did here was to not lower your expectations or fall back on easy notions of what kids "will" and "won't" eat. We grow good eaters by exposing them to real foods and setting an example by what we eat ourselves, but also by not limiting the options to so-called "kid foods." Just wrote about this on my blog, Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat. Hope you'll check it out:

  13. Good job, Mrs Q!!

    How old are these kids? (I realize you may not want to say ages or grade, in order to keep your anonymity protected.) It's strange to me to imagine kids (over the age of 6 or 7) who have never had to hold knives for eating or at least for preparing food at home. Don't they at least make sandwiches and have to spread stuff on bread using a knife? Or do they only eat fast food that can eaten with the fingers and never prepare food at home? Their parents must really be wasting a lot of money on fast food.

  14. The kid who said he now likes tomato and cucumber, I hope he receives encouragement to keep eating them at home. I was the classic picky eater as a kid. Now, as a 34-year-old adult, my family still teases me if they see me eating something I wouldn't have eaten as a kid (which is nearly everything I eat now!) But not wanting to be teased still restricts some of my food choices at family events.

  15. Awesome 🙂 I am so impressed by you and all that your doing….Kudos to you.
    We went out to eat last nite and my daughter (2 and 3/4) was more interested in the celery than the fries 🙂 It is my goal to raise a healthy, happy kid and I am glad that there are teachers out ther that have the same goal in mind for all of our kids.

  16. I am AMAZED that you were allowed to do this. In my school district, parents would be aghast that you fed children food without asking permission. There is such uproar about allergies and preferences. Surely you were berated about offering the salad dressing? Surely you were reprimanded by a parent apoplectic that you fed their child dairy and preservatives?

    Where I live, that simply wouldn't fly. Parents will not allow their children to eat anything without their permission. And culturally, it's generally as close-to-the-earth locavore as possible. I would think that bottled salad dressing would have caused an uproar. I'm really really amazed that this happened.

    Kudos to you for a great lesson!

  17. As a kid I was lucky enough to leave the local public school, where the food was barely edible, things like 4 layer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with american cheese and salt water soup with a few pieces of celery floating in it if you were lucky. I went instead, to a private school where we had a full salad bar, nicer then I'v ever seen in a restaurant, fresh fruit and balanced meals. I really believe that the higher grades and ability for the kids to focus in the private school had to do with how we ate and the fact that we had recess everyday and gym twice a week. Kids need to be active and they a need proper diet to fuel them.
    In public school we were always given a spork to eat with while in private school we had real knives forks, dishes and even glasses which were washed after every meal. Having real cutlery and lunch periods that weren't so rushed let us relax and have our minds calm down before taking on the next half of the day. This time to de-stress is so important.

  18. My 9 year old wanted to have salad with us at dinner recently. I was surprised, but salad ia often an option at our school and he eats it there. He sees other kids eat it, too. Of course, they use ranch dressing, too.

    He really likes carrots and ranch and I can pack that in his lunch. I am amzed at my luck. My other kid is not "adventurous" at allwith new foods, and he is 13.

  19. VERY cool. I love that show as well. I cannot believe people are giving him so much crap for what he is trying to do (not just in the town, but on the blogs) It is ridiculous. I really love him, and love what he is trying to do for kids! It is amazing!

  20. Nice!!!! I love it. I have tried hard to make sure my kids know how to use utencils and discourage eating with hands (even pizza.) It helps them develop in little ways. Since I have been reading your blog, I have decided my children need to eat breakfast at home and not at school. I used to think I didn't have the time to make them breakfast until my oldest came home and told me what they ate for breakfast. It was puny and unhealthy! I asked them all if they were still hungry at lunch and they all said yes. This blog has really given me something to think about. Thank you so much for helping me and others!

  21. BRAVO, Mrs. Q! You are truly a woman after my own heart! I have been doing a similar approach with my program ( and it has really flourished this spring.

    The other day I had approx 35 3rd graders lined up to taste Broccoli Puree – I couldnt believe it! I know how great it made me feel, I am sure you felt the same way. Hooray! 🙂

  22. Wonderful idea!! I am glad to hear there was a break through with some of the kids.

    After watching Food Revolution, I decided to involve my 4 year old daughter in the cooking process (she loves it). We made a salad where she helped cut lettuce, tomatoes and carrots, and she ended up eating a good portion of the salad, she was excited about eating something she made

    This country needs more Teachers like you!!

  23. On the first episode of Food Revolution that I saw, the administrator was up in arms b/c Jamie's healthy pasta didnt have the "appropriate amount of vegetables" (but the fried chicken sandwich with fries did?!) so I'm also amazed that your feeding the kids food (and using a knife) was allowed. Don't get me wrong, I think you did a great thing, but as mentioned in other comments some people can be SO crazy about allergies, etc that its hard to believe they let you do this. Also, I was wondering if you had any fear that revealing this lesson might reveal your identity? Someone could read it and say "hey wait, so and so did that with her class the other day". Just curious, I know you live in constant fear of being exposed (don't blame you).
    I also agree that part of the problem is that parents either don't eat , or at least have a negative reaction to some or all fruits/veggies, so it's no surprise their children feel the same.

  24. Bravo, Mrs. Q! What a great teaching moment! I remember cooking with my first & second grade teacher (actually the same teacher). It was a wonderful experience, & she was a wonderful teacher (I'm 41 years old & we're still in touch, too!).

    Watching Jamie Oliver's show & reading your blog, I have looked for many ways to improve what I considered to be an already healthy diet. Trying for more whole foods, etc.

    All of this has me thinking. . .a healthy diet is not that far off in price or effort from an unhealthy one. For example, even pizza COULD be healthy if the schools made them correctly. The other day I made myself a personal pizza. I used: low-carb pita for the crust; "all natural" pizza sauce (Walmart's brand–BTW, I have made sauce from scratch & it's so easy!); cheese. I used pepperoni which is not the greatest but sometimes I use beef, chicken, etc. instead (even rotisserie chicken). Veggies could have been added. Another example: I often eat berries for dessert. I used the frozen ones that have no added sugar. If the schools are worried about spoilage (fresh fruit) couldn't they use frozen berries or peaches instead of the dreaded fruit cup (in syrupy sugar)? These changes take about the same amount of effort as what the schools are currently doing but are much healthier.

  25. Congrats!!! I have been loving your blog. I'm loving the revolution that seems to be going on, with your help, and the help of many others. Keep doing what you're doing, positive thinking and doing will be sure to make a change somehow, someday.

    I'd be interested if you have watched Food Inc. and brought that up for discussion? I really thought my family ate well, until I saw that movie and saw that it's a much bigger problem than even I knew it was.

    Congrats again, I'm so glad you have such a following and are getting people thinking. (My blog for lunches for my 17 month son, although I've been on hiatus since my mother is now cooking his lunches as she watches him 🙂 )

  26. In Montessori classrooms, preschoolers are taught to make their own snacks. My own children help peel carrots, etc. starting around age 4 or 5; we also have an apple cutter (cuts apple into 8 wedges, cuts around the core) that is popular, too.

    The snack idea in class is awesome. I STILL remember making butter (and trying it) in my first grade class! There is something about food that just sticks with you, I think!

  27. Hooray – I loved your post. Keep up the good work.
    I'm not longer in the classroom and so did the same with my kiddos at home.
    Who knew cauliflower would be such a hit!?

  28. I LOVE what you are doing. I just started reading your blog and I think what your are doing is super-brave and extremely necessary! Thank you so much! I only wish there were more out there like you!

  29. We eat a lot of salads at my house. I do have my kids peel carrots & cukes, and grate cheese when needed, but there was a period (starting around age 4, maybe?) when I was SURE they would NEVER face a salad on their plates without complaining. We decided to continue making meals that WE wanted to eat (kids always had the option of making their own PB&J if they tried everything and didn't care for it). And then one day… they just ate the salad. DS doesn't like tomatoes, neither child likes nuts, but they're entitled to those preferences. Now, at age 7, they like to make the salads for the rest of us: greens, chopped or dried fruit, a bit of cheese, maybe some croutons. It's kind of a miracle, and I'm glad to have persevered.

    So much is about exposure, and it really does work to keep putting good foods in front of them.

  30. I eat salad every day. I'm still fat.

    Will it reduce "obesity trends"? Dunno.

    But fat or thin it will make you healthier.

  31. I read an article on Huffington Post that about 70% of the kids who tried Jamie's food didn't like it. I'm not surprised at all though, and I think it's sad testimony to the fact that their palates have been manipulated by all the fast food, high salt, high sugar and additive laden foods that they are being raised on. Perhaps if we as parents didn't feed our children so much artificially flavored foods they would have better taste buds and be able to understand flavor and complexity and what "fresh" tastes like and how it's actually good!

    I know it's a bit of a long shot, but wasn't there a study that proved how addictive fast food and additives and preservatives in food can be? If our children are "addicted" to processed foods, of course trying something that is real and made from scratch is not going to excite them at first. It is going to be a long drawn out process of creating new habits and adjusting their little palates.

    Thank you Thank you Thank you for at least introducing children to fresh vegetables. Parents need to do this! We need to KEEP DOING IT. Even if it fails the first time, try try again.

  32. In Jamie Oliver's episode on chicken nuggets, he asks the kids (after he shows them how they are made, ICK!) if they want to eat one. I think that the kids just didn't know what to answer so when one raised his hand they all did. Positive and negative peer pressure is a fact in elementary schools. One kids says Yuck! or Yum! and they all do. (I was a primary reading specialist in an elementary school.) It just takes ONE to be a positive influence on the others! Great teaching tool!! Keep trying!

  33. Way to go, Mrs Q!! =D Your students are so lucky to have you as their teacher 😉 But I have a stupid question… Can you eat raw broccoli?? I always have it boiled, but since you put it in the salad, I'm assuming that you ate it uncooked.

    I agree with Heidi von Tagen. Children's taste buds have been so distorted by processed foods that now they can't appreciate new, real food tastes. It's so sad =(

  34. Yay Mrs. Q! I second the idea of growing something the kids can eat. Potatoes can be grown in a bucket. Lettuces and radishes and spinach grow fast in window boxes. Strawberries would be revelatory to kids who never tasted home-grown.

  35. First off, way to go for being such a thoughtful teacher. I taught for 2 years and appreciate when I see a teach go above and beyond.

    My only other thought was, "Gee… we're really letting parents off the hooks, aren't we?" I totally agree that school lunches should be healthier but I also think that parents should have the majority of the responsibility for teaching the children how to use utensils, for feeding healthy foods, for teaching table manners, etc. I think it's parents who are really letting these kids down. Schools need to play a part but not the entire part. I would never in a million years expect my child's teacher to be the one to teach her how to use a knife. It's graet if the teacher does but doesn't a teacher have enough to do during their day? Step up parents and take responsibility for your kids.
    Whew… sorry about the rant. Lazy parenting gets me all fired up. 🙂

  36. Actually, you need some oil to get the most of the nutrients in that salad, so the full fat dressing was just fine.
    Also, store bought so you could see the ingredient list is the way you have to do it in my state. In fact, no home made goodies are allowed because of allergies. In our state the teacher is made aware of any allergies. In the preschool they must be posted where the teacher can see the information daily.

    The knife might have gotten you in trouble. Even plastic knives are not allowed, thus that spork that wont cut your meat patty.
    That said, most of what you put in that salad COULD have been cut with a good plastic knife. In preschool we do cook with the kids every once in a while and tie it into the lesson with a book.
    I think it is a shame that our kids have been so dumbed down that they can not even use eating utencils correctly. I applaud your lesson and hope you can continue to teach hands on lessons like this one.

  37. Check out the USDA fresh fruit and vegetable program for something that can really help kids in your school. I've been in a couple of school that have participated and seen kids exposed to all sorts of new foods they never would have tried. I was shocked at the number of staff and students who had never eaten a fresh pear or blueberries (I used to pick and eat my own growing up).

  38. Fantastic! What a great idea. I'm sure you inspired a lot of teachers today. I know teachers. I bet you paid for all that food yourself, so this is a big thank you, too. Your post today brought tears to my eyes.

  39. thats great that you did that
    but wouldn't this give a clue to who you are?
    its not every single day a teacher makes a salad with a class!!

  40. My husband was raised by his grandmother who was very, very poor. He hardly ever had fruits or veggies growing up, not in school and not at home. I on the other hand, grew up loving fruits and veggies and wanting them with every meal. When we moved in together and started cooking for each other this became very apparent. He would cook pasta and meat (not even a tomato sauce, just butter!), but there would be no veggies. He would choose cookies over fruit as a dessert or snack. When I made veggie or fruit heavy meals, he would cringe and go to McDonalds. It has taken years, literally 10 years, but he is finally coming around. He now eats salads several times a week, he will try new vegetables (many he had never had prior to us living together) and he even requests certain veggies and fruits now! He has truly come a long way and I am so proud of him. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to care enough to introduce or re-introduce someone to healthier eating. He still loves his pasta, but we now get whole wheat or "healthy" pasta. We also eat a lot of fresh fish and chicken and hardly any red meat. My own personal experiment with my husband has proved to me that kids need to have lots of fruits and veggies when they are young or they grow into adults that prefer McDonalds over a good, healthy, home cooked meal. Keep up the good work!

  41. I debated putting this post up because I do think it gives a little more information about me, but it's also a great story.

    As far as providing food to the students, they often bring in treats for their classmates and teachers give students treats too. Everything I bought was packaged and brand new from the grocery store (even the cucumber was sealed in plastic) just like many packaged foods kids bring in every day. The only difference is that these were vegetables not packaged cakes or cookies.

    Teachers are made aware of allergies early on in the year by parents.

    The salad experiment was fun, but I don't incorporate food into lessons very often. Making a salad was a rare treat and it's also cost-prohibitive.

  42. I have been reading your blog for about a month now, starting with the older posts. I am so impressed with everything you're doing, but I haven't felt moved to comment until now. What you are doing with your students is phenomenal! This salad idea was fantastic. You may think you only reached one student, but I guarantee you that every child who learned how to hold a knife will remember it forever; every student who sampled a new vegetable will remember that experience. You are touching lives with your blog and in the classroom.

    There is a post above mine that is incredibly rude and disrespectful. Attention "anonymous": if you can't say anything nice, do NOT say anything at all.

    Mrs. Q: keep up the good work. You should be extremely proud of yourself. You are inspiration to all of us. 🙂

  43. I just found your blog, and all I can say is thank heavens somebody's taking exception to the garbage we're feeding the kids we claim to love. My children are 26 & 30 yrs old now, but when they were in elementary and high school, they brought their own food. They were made fun of for eating raw broccoli, and warm soup from a thermos, etc. I eventually joined a volunteer group who went to the different elementary schools, had lunch, and gave opinions of the food. Whenever I commented that the food could be more nutritious and gave suggestions, I was told that kids wouldn't eat whatever it was I suggested, liked raw vegetables and fruit. I actually argued with a principal that the kids should wash their hands and remove their winter coats before eating. I was told there wasn't enough time and it didn't matter anyway. The next year all birthday snacks and the like had to be store bought because there was an epidemic of ring worm in the schools. I actually had one parent ask me if I'd rather my child's time at school be spent learning how to wash her hands or how to read. It shouldn't be either/or. I was told that 4 crackers constitutes a bread product, and that both the fries and the ketchup count as a vegetable, (that's 2 vegetables.) If each day contains 3 meals and 1 snack, each meal should contain almost 33% or 1/3 of the daily required nutrients. The "almost" assumes the snack will be a nutritious one. To know how much nutrition a food contains, look on the label. Thus, unless the fruit yogurt states 25% vitamin C, it can not be counted as a full fruit requirement. For all our talk, Americans as a whole, don't value our children as much as some other countries. If we did, we'd feed them correctly, give them enough time to eat, enough time for recess to socialize, exercise and relieve tension, and we wouldn't mind teaching them how to cut their meat, use a napkin, wash their hands, and practice manners.

  44. yep, you're definitely a cut above most teachers. it's great to see how much attention you give your students.

    i was so surprised when i watched that episode that not a single child knew a single vegetable. i tried to think back to when i was their age, which is nearly 30 years ago. while we mostly ate corn or mixed vegetables in my family (the only things all of us could agree on), i would easily been able to id the potato and tomato, at the very least. what kind of kid has never seen a tomato? so sad.

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