by Laura Arvidson

After making and eating Potato, Black Bean and Swiss Chard Hash in our class focusing on stems — you know, the part of a plant that moves water and nutrients up a plant, and sugars or “plant food” back down — one of the second graders approached me to say,

“That was delicious.  I think my Dad would like it too.  Will you get me the recipe?”

“Yes, I can get you the recipe.” I reply.

“You won’t forget will you? I really want the recipe.”

“No,”  I say. “I promise I won’t forget.”

At a time when 5% of our children in the United States eat enough fruits and vegetables to grow into healthy adults, a second grader begging me for a recipe chock-full of chard — a dynamic leaf and stem duo that grows well here in Ronan, Montana, is typically cheap, full of nutrients, beautiful, and delicious — feels like a victory. I want every child to have a chance to grow up healthy. I want every kid to love vegetables and fruits and want to eat them all the time.  While the problem of children not consuming vegetables and fruits is complex, at least part of the answer seems relatively simple.

Two things I’ve learned about kids and vegetables:1) Often we have to try a new food many times before we like it. Some of the battle is simply “exposing” kids to vegetables and encouraging a willingness to try new foods. My students are all now members of the “Two Bite Club.” Ronan second graders tried two bites of spinach, pumpkin, garbanzo beans, white cheddar cheese and farro to become members. As a member of the Two Bite Club, they have agreed to be brave and try two bites of healthy foods. Every time I feed kids vegetables one or two blurts out “I like it!” The look of genuine shock and excitement on their face as they learn they like a new healthy food makes it all worth it.

2) When kids grow or cook food, they are more likely to want it. I fell in love with vegetables working on a produce farm so this makes sense to me. Our school is in the process of getting a garden, which is so exciting. Currently we connect with food through cooking in the classroom.

In many schools today, time can feel tight.  There are curriculum standards to meet and making room for extra projects is challenging. However,  we can connect nutrition education into our curriculum standards and have a more engaging lesson because of it.  Cooking and eating food lends itself to integrating well with science, math, language arts, geography and history. The world we live in is complex; we must foster creativity in our children and encourage the ability to understand and work with complexity for them to be successful in the unknown future we are attempting to prepare them for. When we create holistic lessons that are hands-on and cross-disciplinary, my hope is that students are more engaged and therefore more prepared to tackle the complex systems they will encounter in their futures.

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