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. Wow, reading this post is pretty inspirational – I love to see the difference just one person can make. What you did was a great experiment in the classroom. Nothing was forced on the kids, you simply asked them to give it a try and the results you procured were amazing. This is truly something that should be replicated in schools every now and then.

  2. I think that a lot of a child's hesitation in trying new food is the lack of adult encouragement.
    I teach kindergarten and my school has the same lunch program. My kids walk down the hallway to pick up their lunch along with the other K classes and then walk back to the classroom to eat it. We do not have a cafeteria, nor do we have school employees to watch the children unless a parent comes in to give us a 1/2 hour break. When we have a parent for lunch, teachers are expected to walk down and keep the kids under control while in the lunch line. From day 1 I've made a point to say to my kids how much I like something about each days lunch. That somehow encourages them to at LEAST try it, and more often than not, finish it. I've noticed that the other classrooms of kids don't take things that are offered or complain. Mine don't do that, they know NOT to. If more adults simply took the time to show some love for food (even if it is a forced kind of smile) there wouldn't be so many picky kids around.

  3. I love the idea of having salad as a class! I wish I could do it with my 2nd grade group for our nutrition unit, but our free lunch status has this rule that we cannot feed the children anything other than their company's products, or we risk losing funding.

    I used to incorporate foods into lessons about once a month, and have kids take turns bringing in healthy snacks for the class, back before it was forbidden.

    My favorite lesson was the fruit festival for my 4th graders. We were studying seeds in science class, and how they travel (wind, animals, etc.). I brought in as many different fruits as I could find (everything from kiwi to mango to uglifruit) and we all tried each one and made a scientific drawing of it. Then we talked about how the seeds traveled in each kind of fruit. Science and nutrition, all in one lesson. The kids all figured out that they loved kiwi fruit, and they begged me to bring it again, which I did for celebrations several times that year.

    I love what you're doing with this blog. I recognize a lot of the foods you're eating, because my students eat similar stuff. When my son (he's 1) is old enough for school, I'm going to have him bring his lunch everyday so he doesn't have to suffer through things like the nasty pizza every week.

  4. Last week with cheese enchiladas, we served a fresh salsa. It was basically pico de gallo: fresh tomato, onion, cilnatro, lime juice and a bit of jalapeno…plus we added black beans, pinto beans, corn and fresh avocado. (I am lucky enough to work at a private school where money and rules are not overbearing)
    I walked into a first grade class room and made a deal. I promised them they would get to choose the next treat if every kid tried the salsa…they didn't have to eat it all, they didn't even have to like it…they only had to try it. We talked about how it was okay to not like some things, but it is silly to not like anything. I talked about how it took me almost 3 hours to cut all the veggies to make this, because I was SURE someone would try it and like it.
    Every single kid tried it, most liked elements of it, a few hated it…but they all tried it.

    They chose brownies, which I spent all day making from scratch today.

    I'm not above wheeling and dealing every once in awhile. I would never force a kid to try something, but it's funny how an incentive or a positive comment toward a kid or a classroom can encourage them.

    Kudos to you for encouraging kids to try new things.

  5. AMAZING!! Keep up the work–each small step is still a step in the right direction!

  6. Hi Mrs. Q. I've been reading you since your first post but have never commented until now. I just wanted to say that you are absolutely awesome for doing this salad exercise with the kids. Teaching them the process of putting fresh food into a bowl is more valuable than anything they could hear or read. I don't have kids, but as a passionate home cook and a student of the foodie revolution, I'm saddened by the state of our country's kids nonetheless.

    Thank you!

  7. This is fantastic! It would be great if more classes had opportunities like this. I bet kids would be more willing to try new foods in school than at home – peer pressure can be a force for good in some cases! I was a very picky eater when I was little, right up til high school, when I made friends with a girl whose parents had taught her to cook, let her cook regularly, and ate a wide variety of foods. They also were willing hosts to several giant parties each year – a group of 10 or so of us would go to my friend's house and cook a huge buffet meal in the afternoon, and other friends would show up as the evening went on. We'd usually be feeding upwards of 30 or 40 people! I tried a lot of new foods at that friend's house because I didn't want to seem picky. The same thing happened at college – eating with my peers broadened my palatte. I became less picky because my friends weren't picky – or at least were differently picky. Now, the foods I eat regularly are much healthier and more diverse than what I ate as a kid. I wonder how many of Mrs. Q's kids would have touched those salads at home, without their peers watching?

  8. To be fair, I LOVE vegetables, but even I wouldn't eat raw broccoli and I don't like cucumber. I'm glad you at least made him try it, because when I was a kid there were a lot of foods that I "didn't like" but had never tried.

  9. I love this!! Great idea.

    When I was in kindergarten, we used to put together snacks. Our teacher had one rule, that I continue to practice to this day: we had to try three bites of something before we could say that we didn't like it. Honestly? Some things I didn't like after the first or second bites, but by the third one, I could appreciate the flavor/texture.

  10. I really don't know where this whole "You can't give my kids food!" thing came from. That's just absurd. You ALLOW your kids to eat the dreck that Mrs. Q eats on a daily basis, you have NO room to complain, imo. When I was in school, they still allowed home cooked treats to be brought in and we only had pizza as a special treat. Certainly not once a week, minimum. (assuming you can really call that pizza)

    Kudos to YOU Mrs. Q. Not only for doing the salad lesson with your kids, but also for what you are doing with this entire blog.

    I don't have kids myself, but I remember what lunches were when I was a kid and they were NOTHING like this. There's no way I'd allow my kids to eat like this on a daily basis. No wonder our society is fat.

    You keep doing what you are doing, Mrs. Q. You are an inspiration to all of us and I hope you effect some sort of change!

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