Over the past few weeks, students at Mendota Elementary School and Somerset Elementary School have been participating in food tastings, which focus on trying unique fruits and vegetables.
Laura Grulkowski, the school nurse at Mendota Elementary and Tracy Westman, the physical education teacher at Somerset Elementary started offering these tastings after a salad bar was added to lunches several years ago. Their goal was to introduce students to healthy choices in a classroom setting in hopes they would start eating a variety of these foods on the salad bar.
In preparation for the tastings, both Grulkowski and Westman coordinate with the food service workers at each school to decide which fruits and vegetables will be tasted. They consider price, practicality and the overall sustainability of including the item as part of the salad bar on an ongoing basis.
On tasting days, Grulkowski explains to students the origin and history of the food being tasted as well as the health benefits of eating it. She also sends home an informational handout for students to use as a reference. Westman does something very similar for her students.
As a result of these tastings, students have tried an assortment of unique fruits and vegetables including jicama, starfish, kumquats, garbanzo beans, red peppers, humus and coleslaw. After these items have been tasted, many of them are then offered as part of the salad bar in the lunch room.
Exposure to new foods through these taste tests has been beneficial for students.
“We have seen an increase in the students willingness to eat the fruit or vegetables when they see them at the salad bar,” said Westman. “I have also had parents tell me how their student has requested to try the new item at home.”
Students are excited to try unique foods, but as with trying any new foods for the first time, they have a mix of reactions as they take their first bites.
“My favorite part about the tastings is watching students be surprised by the taste of something,” said Grulkowski. “I love watching the reactions on their faces.”
Both Grulkowski and Westman plan on continuing food tastings in the future as a way to encourage their students to make healthy choices and teach them about good nutrition.