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Sowing the Seeds of Success: Low-to-No Cost Tips for Teachers and Parents to get Kids Excited about Food
By Rob Glass
Rob is a Spanish teacher in Maryland, a Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Ambassador, and an avid amateur chef.
Summer is almost at an end, and the school year will be here again before you know it. Although there have been many massive steps forward regarding school lunch in the past few years, there is still a long way to go. And as a teacher myself and advocate for kids everywhere, I also think one of the most important things we can do as a community is make sure that kids are getting positive reinforcement and making good choices both in and out of school. Although school food reform might seem like a daunting task, there are several steps you can take at home and in your community. Although part of this will be written from a teacher’s perspective, many of these ideas can be implemented at home too!
#1 MAKE FOOD FUN AND SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO!
We’re learning that the more engaged and involved kids are with food, the more likely they are to try it. There’s plenty of ways to do this as a parent or educator. At home, assign easy jobs at dinnertime, such as peeling or chopping that uses an age-appropriate knife, and make your kids part of the dinner process.
When it’s seasonally appropriate, go to a local farm or farmer’s market. Seeing the food being grown makes it more exciting and interesting, and once again, more likely to be tried or tasted. Some farms will even offer tours or have farmers come out and do a kid-friendly craft or give a kid-friendly explanation. Even better is a “pick-your-own” farm. A kid who picked his own apple or took strawberries right off the vine will be much more excited than one that came from the store.
Another highly effective technique is to offer small choices at dinner time. But instead of choosing between carrots and french fries, offer the choice between carrots and squash. This way, your kid is still taking control of their choices, but you’re also giving a positive exposure to healthy foods.
#2: Turn food into a science/math/reading lesson
As we move deeper and deeper into Common Core (at least in Maryland), integrating a wide variety of sources and techniques to enhance everyday learning has become the key. Food is the perfect springboard for this.
For science, have kids look at the benefits of eating certain foods vs others. Or have them track how much exercise they would have to do to burn off a certain food. In my Spanish class, we look at the MyHealthyPlate and create menus that integrate all of the food groups, plus the essential vitamins and minerals. With advanced classes I’ve also had them do calorie counts. They’re practicing the language but also thinking critically, enhancing categorization skills, and thinking of food from a different perspective.
For a math lesson, even the youngest kids can still help count how many of a certain item you need to make a meal. Older kids can help with measurements, stirring a certain amount of times, or following your instructions for turning on the oven or setting the stove to the right heat. After the meal is ready, kids can help portion out servings, practicing fractions while also learning what a real serving size should look like.
Even with English and language arts there’s plenty of things you can do! Especially for younger kids and picky eaters, have them use their 5 senses to describe a food they like and a food they don’t like. You can also use this to have them try new foods, describing them as similar in texture or similar in smell. Giving them a gateway will make them much more likely to try it. And if your child is reading a book in school or for summer reading, try finding references to food that the characters like, and make it with her! I will always fondly remember reading Stone Soup in elementary school, and at the end of reading it each student brought in a different food that we mixed all together to try. It was a very memorable lesson, even 20 years later!
#3: Get involved with a local gardening/cooking club, or make your own!
And finally, it’s always good to work in a group! See if your area has a kid’s gardening club or cooking club already in place.Many libraries, churches, or schools will offer summer programs, usually at no-to-low-cost. These groups provide a chance for your kids to see their friends while also learning healthy habits and having fun. And if you can’t find something, start something! I’m now going on year 2 of having a cooking club at our public library, and we usually have anywhere between 15-30 signups each month. Each new student is a new student reached out to, and a positive influence on the community. It always makes me happy when someone comes back next month and said that they made something with their family or couldn’t wait to go home to talk about it.