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Our guest blogger, Katarina Rodriguez is a Spoons Across America Programs Associate from CUNY Service Corps 2014-2015. Her post is a response to the Time Magazine article, ‘Coming to Our Senses on Education and Nutrition’, written by Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, published on November 12th, 2014.

At Spoons Across America, we believe the best approach to nutrition education is to encourage children to lift up their spoons and excite all their senses as they taste new and interesting healthy foods. In New York City, the “concrete jungle” is not the easiest place for children to truly understand how their foods travel from the farm to the plate, but at Spoons Across America, we are passionate about persuading children to care about these untold food stories. Our children learn through both experience and observation as we ask them to describe the appearance, texture, scent, and taste of all kinds of food- like in our  Taste a Taste program where children can snack on a mouthwatering Honeycrisp apple. Our children become independent and inquisitive taste explorers- but when the recipe we hand out at the end of every lesson is accompanied by a high-pitched squeal– we know that sometimes we inspire mini chefs as well.

aglitweekSpoons Across America provides programs where children actively engage all their senses by tasting and learning about new, healthy foods. In her article, Coming to Our Senses on Education and Nutrition, Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, a physician graduate of John Hopkins School of Medicine, advocates for more taste and smell stimulation in classroom instruction. She explains that “taste and smell… guide our behavior and level of motivation.” She explains, how “the gaming and cosmetic industries use food fragrances to incentivize behavior and purchases.” People build associations with certain foods and activities, which can encourage unhealthy habits. For instance, football fans associate watching the Superbowl with pizza and spicy buffalo wings and pizzerias offer deals on their food to intice people to continue this behavior.

Dr. Kohlstadt recognizes that the types of food children are exposed to and their experiences with it can lead to both positive and negative lifelong behaviors. At Spoons Across America, our Take a Taste with Spoons program for 3rd graders is one of our many programs that combines taste and smell stimulation with our classroom lessons to encourage children to be healthy eaters.

Spoons Across America wants to improve children’s relationship with food and at the same time, introduce them to the world of culinary arts and the long-term benefits of healthy eating. Most children can recognize and name the variety of an apple, but rarely do we hear children think critically for a unique description of an apple. In Take a Taste, students identify the elements of taste (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) and we urge them to use this vocabulary and descriptive language to explain their reactions to the food they eat. In a recent lesson this October, as an instructor cut a juicy Pink Lady apple before the lesson began, a 3rd-grade student impatiently told us, “Can I eat that apple already? I’m drooling here.”

salad daysWe want our students to drool and yearn for healthy food, we prompt them with questions to enhance their vocabulary and build associations with complex tastes and the world around us; Does it taste like an explosion of sweetness? Does it taste like Fall? Is it crunchy like the leaves falling off the trees? Instead of children eating without really enjoying and thinking about the kinds of food they put in their mouths, we want children to stop and realize their food is just as connected to the world as they are and every bite from a nutritious meal will lead them to a healthier, happier, and beautiful life.

In addition to Take A Taste with Spoons, Spoons Across America’s programs include The Dinner Party Project®, Agriculture Literacy Week, and Spoons Food Miles Relay. In all of our programs, we challenge children to experience unfamiliar, healthy foods, to think critically about the story behind their food, and to be health conscious about the food choices they make.

_Y0K0826Spoons Across America hopes that the meal preparation that children learn from our lessons will give them enough confidence to initiate and continue cooking at home with their families. In a study performed by Researchers at Teachers College at Columbia children involved in meal preparation and found that they were more likely to eat their school lunches and ask for seconds than children who did not participate in cooking workshops . Children who prepare their own meals actually want to eat what they cook, because they feel a sense of pride and confidence. Spoons Across America understands that as educators it is our duty to encourage children to embrace their curiosity when it comes to food. The influence we have now on children can have a lasting impact on them as adults and ultimately the health of the community.

[1] Parker-Pope, Tara. “6 Food Mistakes Parents make.” New York Times, Sep 15, 2008, Late Edition (East Coast). http://queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/433936790?accountid=13379.

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5 Reasons to Love Packing a Lunchbox

carrotsMy kids aren’t very picky eaters, but they flat out refuse to eat school food. And since my middle schooler’s lunch period is at 10:40 in the morning, she turns into a voraciously hungry and very cranky preteen by the time she gets home. Thankfully, they eat what they bring from home. Their lunch boxes return with empty containers, apple cores, and bread crusts because apparently, my kids also refuse to use the cafeteria trashcans. But I’m not complaining. Even on the most hectic days, packing three lunch boxes has become a family ritual.

Spoons Across America believes that cooking with our children and eating together as a family contributes to the development of healthy habits that will serve kids well beyond childhood. You can read more about the research-based, lifelong benefits of eating and preparing meals together here. The same can be said for preparing school lunches and snacks, which we generally eat when we’re apart. Packing school lunches and snacks with the kids provides another opportunity in the day to stop and focus on each other.

The New York Times parenting blog, The Motherlode recently published a story titled, Nine Things to Hate About Packing School Lunches (and How to Fix Them)The list rings true for me (particularly #4), and I feel stress knots forming in my shoulders just reading it. I decided to make a list of the five things I love about packing school lunches, and the stress is gone (see number #5 on my list):

1) We are what we eat. The 19th century French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Saverin wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are.” Our relationship with food is about our relationship with our bodies, our environment and each other. If we want our kids to be strong, and healthy individuals who make good choices, who are respectful and compassionate, who recognize that the natural world is the source of all the foods that sustain us, then food is a part of helping them become this way. Its not just about the vitamins and minerals.

2) Kids can make their own choices about food. They may try to get away with choosing a lunch that has chocolate as an ingredient in each item, but if I give my kids some guidelines, they figure out pretty quickly what their lunch should look like. A vegetable and a fruit are non-negotiables, so an apple or pineapple chunks, carrot sticks or cucumber slices, as examples, go in. Sometimes sandwiches don’t, but leftovers from dinner do. And yes, a Hershey’s Kiss or two does make the final cut.

3) Variety is the spice of life. They may want the same lunch every day, but I try to include a range of flavors, colors and textures.

4) Convenience does not have to equal junk food. Packing your own servings into reusable or recyclable containers allows you to determine serving sizes, and presents a great opportunity to talk about serving sizes with your kids. Besides, the pre-packed single servings in the supermarkets create more waste. I admit, I don’t always follow this, but I try more often than not.

5) Don’t stress. So what if my Kindergartener wants to eat the same thing every day. She’s going to eat, and that’s what I’m aiming for.

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Its been a busy spring for Spoons Across America! Volunteers and program leaders worked with over 3000 students participating in Agricultural Literacy Week and the Dinner Party Project. Classrooms were transformed into kitchens, and kids illustrated their favorite healthy meals using My Plate as their guide. Click on the photos below for a look at a couple of our school-based programs in action:
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