I’m just finishing my 14th year of feeding kids lunch. This is amazing to me.  To think that it has already been over 15 years since I took early retirement from “The Corporate World” is absolutely unbelievable to me.  Feeding kids is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. Here’s why – we are actually developing kids’ palates and having an impact on what they choose to eat.  It’s our own version of health reform!

Many of the students I cook for have been here for years. Every day I watch those kids make choices about what they will eat when they come through the lunch line. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed to see how well they’ve “gotten it”. They are willing to taste new things. They have embraced the concept of eating only whole grains, the braising greens and root vegetables during the winter months.  And they have begun to ask about certain seasonal fruits which they have learned should be coming at a certain time of year.

Each year I find myself comparing these “experienced” students to students who are new to the school.  New students are less likely to go for the whole grains, green vegetables and fish during their first few.  They don’t quite trust that these healthy foods are going to taste good and thus are reluctant to try new things.  Their palates have been built on a more traditional American diet that is high in processed foods.  So their expectations are quite different.  Eventually they may start eating well.  Their observations now are more in witnessing their peers’ enjoyment of the all-natural foods.  I think of one student who is now a senior. During the first three years he was here he would come to lunch only when we had pizza, pasta, chicken or red meat. Vegetables were not something he would even discuss.  This year I have noticed him eating fish, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and certain vegetarian entrees.  Basically if the food is roasted or has cheese on it he will eat it.  His palate has not yet developed an appreciation of complex flavors and bold taste.   However, he has come a long way.  His experience eating at home has been to eat whatever he wanted to pick up.  Family meals are not a frequent occurrence in a home where both parents work.  He was lacking education, experience and support in making healthier food choices and developing his palate in his younger years.

The message here is that kids need to be taught about food and nutrition as early in their lives as possible.  If you think of a newborn baby’s palate as being almost neutral, early flavors may be a foundation on which a more interesting and healthier life experience can be developed.  When an artist prepares a canvas for an oil painting he must apply a foundation of gesso on the canvas so that the paints will have a lasting and more textured expression of his inspiration.  The painting is then developed using a variety of hues, tints, colors, values, tones, shades and even intensity.

A similar thing happens in developing the palate of a child.  The foundation of the palate needs to have a basic experience of foods that are pure and natural in their flavors and unprocessed.  From that point the various ways of cooking foods, the seasonings and the combinations of ingredients will develop a more complex acceptance and appreciation of tastes.  Those are the colors of taste.  We are finding that by the 4th grade some kids are already looking to intensify the flavors by adding certain condiments (hot sauce and pepper). The more they experience the natural flavors of foods the more they turn away from the artificial flavors of processed foods.  The standards and expectations for taste are much higher. The painting becomes more interesting.

Tomato SoupHelping kids to develop taste for a healthier diet is such an important part of their education.  The best way accomplish such education is in their daily family meal made of whole foods, prepared in a simple way.  I’m including a recipe which I have found kids really love, Tomato Basil Soup. It’s a soup that is simple but not boring.  The tomato and fresh basil combination makes the most of two great natural flavors.  It’s full of good, healthy nutrition.  Enjoy it!

Follow the link above or click here for Chef’s Tomato Basil Soup Recipe!