We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post to bring you this message about vegetables. That’s right. Vegetables. See, vegetables are a big deal in my world. Making sure our school nutrition menus include the correct amount of vegetables and the correct amount of vegetable “sub-groups” is like a monthly game of sudoku.
There has been a lot of clamoring lately about the vegetables. Currently, students are required to take at least 1/2 cup of either fruit and/or vegetables, with every school lunch. This was a change under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Previously, students could refuse the fruits & veggies offered with a school meal… they could take them or leave them. Now, they have to take some, which has resulted in a lot of people saying that it’s our trash cans that are on the receiving end of all these 1/2 c. servings of fruits & veggies.
But what I want to share today is a vegetable story. A story about some little girls. and their vegetables. and how they learned to like their vegetables.
One of the best things that Chef Sam & I get to do it go into a classroom and cook with kids and teach them about healthy eating. A couple of months ago, we were with a class of 3rd graders, making Curried Carrot Soup. The students were peeling and chopping the carrots, sautéing the carrots & onions in some olive oil, then adding broth, curry & seasoning and eventually blending the soup with an immersion blender.
When it came time to sample the soup, one student tried a sip, wrinkled her nose, and said she didn’t like it. We told her that was fine, she didn’t need to like it, but we were happy that she had helped make it. All around her, classmates were trying the soup and making decisions. Did they like it? Maybe? Dislike it? The girl came back and asked if she could try another taste, so we gave her another cup, and she walked away, tasting the soup. This happened at least 4 times, when she finally came back and reported, “you know, I think this soup is growing on me! I think I am starting to like it!” Success! From dislike to like in less than an hour.
This was one of the success stories that I shared in Washington DC in February. Interestingly enough, it was during that trip, that one of my own vegetable dislikes was challenged. You see, for my entire life, I was a brussel sprout hater. I can still remember sitting at the dinner table when I was only 7 or 8 years old, absolutely unable to swallow the brussel sprouts. It was one of those nights when I wasn’t going to be allowed to leave the table until I ate those things. It was a battle of the wills, and a very long night. I never did swallow those brussels sprouts and I never ate them again. That is, until my trip to Washington.
Our first evening in DC, we ate at this excellent restaurant called Zaytinya. My friend ordered a plate of “crispy roasted brussel sprouts”, and I secretly wondered why anyone would eat a whole plate of brussels sprouts. And then, she offered me some. I thought of the student and the curried carrot soup, and I thought of myself, sitting at that dinner table, so many years ago. Remembering the student, I gathered my courage and decided to try them – the presentation was gorgeous, and they smelled delicious. And guess what? I loved them! I became obsessed with them and recently recreated the recipe at home. THAT is how much I loved these brussel sprouts.
So here is the moral of the story: learning to like vegetables takes time. It might take an hour, it might take decades. Freshness, preparation method, seasoning, presentation… all of these factors come into play. Creativity, imagination, and determination.
Kids in schools are learning to like vegetables! We serve carrot fries (roasted carrot sticks), Chef Sam’s Better Baked Beans, roasted cauliflower, kale & apple salad, butternut squash soup, roasted edamame salad, the list goes on & on. The key is lots of choices, delicious recipes, lots of time, trained staff. Allow students fun and friendly opportunities to try new foods, maybe even let them dream up crazy names for them.
There are discussions swirling around about relaxing the fruit & vegetable requirement with the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. I for one, am in favor of keeping the fruits & vegetables on the table. Because, after all, learning to like new foods takes time.