Teaching the Elements of Taste

The looks on their faces when they tasted the cider vinegar were priceless.

Some of the students opened their eyes wide, others slammed them shut so hard their heads shook. “That’s vinegar!” one shouted. “That’s gross!” said another. “I kinda like it,” one whispered to her friend.

Lowerlab5From olive oil to salt to lemon juice, kids participating in a Take a Taste with Spoons program blindly sample components of a recipe before combining them together into a snack or meal. It is a subtle reminder of what happens when individuals come together to form a classroom, a family, a community.

“One of our goals with this, as with all our programs, is to encourage positive, and ultimately healthy food memories for children,” explains Alexandra Weisman McDowell, Director of Programs and Partnerships for SAA.

“The lessons in Take a Taste set the groundwork and develop the language, for these memories. Sour brings them to the lemonade they made with their grandfather on the hottest day of the summer. Salt reminds them of the pickles they ate with their best friend at the street fair. And sweet? Maybe it’s the cookies they made with their mom, but hopefully it’s also the crisp New York apple they tasted one day in their 3rd grade classroom.”

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As the lessons go on, students use what they learned about the elements of taste to think critically about food and discerningly about ingredients. What is the role of sugar in sweetening beverages? How much is too much? What are healthier alternatives to soda? Can we create these alternatives in our classroom and then, ultimately, at home? The class makes their own sparkling beverage and snacks to enjoy together.  In addition to learning about flavors and recipes, the kids receive conversation prompts to jump start discussions around the table while they’re eating.

This fall, Take a Taste is occurring in third grade classrooms across New York City.

“We have an amazing group of Curriculum Leader and volunteers who will be working in the classrooms this Fall,” said McDowell. “They come from an array of backgrounds and experiences- students in food studies and nutrition, lawyers, financial experts, chefs, parents and teachers. They bring their talents and own interest in food to our students, but will also serve in a “mentoring” role, developing relationships in the classroom as they visit each week, representing for students the various options and opportunities they have as they grow up. ” 

Are you interested in volunteering for Spoons Across America’s Take a Taste program? Contact us here.

Spoons Across America Receives Grants to Expand Programs

SAA Programs Will Serve More Classrooms in 2014-15

 

Great news! Spoons Across America has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to expand our programming in New York City this year. With this generous support, SAA programs will reach an additional 600 students through The Dinner Party Project and Take A Taste with Spoons programs.

Earlier this summer, SAA received a grant award from the Julia Child Foundation to expand Take a Taste with Spoons from a one day program to a three day program. Our fall programs kick off in just a couple of weeks and we couldn’t be more excited!

Take a Taste with Spoons promotes the importance of fresh, local and seasonal food, explores the elements of taste, and encourages children to eat healthy, tasty foods. The Dinner Party Project engages children in the fun and excitement of planning, preparing and enjoying a meal with their parents and friends. Both programs educate children about the benefits of healthy eating.

SAA is currently accepting applications for volunteers to support fall programs. Read more about volunteer opportunities and how to apply here.

To read the entire fall newsletter, click here.

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.

Spoons Swings into Spring with The Dinner Party Project and Agriculture Literacy Week

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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:

Time to Eat…

Time to Eat… Reflections on The Dinner Party Project by Catherine Lea

It’s time. At quarter to six on a November night, the lasagnas are coming out of the oven. Cups of bright orange soup steam on silver trays. The carpaccio gets its final sprinkle of cilantro. Our guests have begun to filter in to the cafeteria – which is decked out, tonight only, in autumn colors and handmade tissue flowers, the lunch tables transformed by brown paper runners, pitchers of fruited water, and colorful paper hand-prints. A formal place setting has been arranged with care at each seat. The room is warm with the smells of pumpkin, ginger and garlic, and the fifth grade students at PS 111 are ready to host their dinner party.

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 It’s a moment that fills me with pride on their behalf. For the past seven Wednesdays, I’ve had the privilege of going into two fifth grade classrooms at PS 111, helping the radiant Hope Mirlis talk to the students about cooking, nutrition, food customs, and what it means to plan and host a dinner. Together, we have learned about eating with the seasons and balancing meals. We’ve measured out the sugar in bottles of soda (“Whoa.”) and talked about portion sizes. We’ve practiced setting the table and serving each other on our best behavior. In one memorable class, we tasted each of the components of a vinaigrette and described them –salty, sweet, lemony– before mixing them together into a concoction that the kids dubbed “VinaiGREAT.” (Well, one of them named it “Throw-Up Liquid” – guess you can’t please them all.) The students have been by turns skeptical and thrilled, shy and hamming it up – but mainly enthusiastic. The morning of the big dinner party, they were so excited that they burst into applause when we walked in the room.

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 At the risk of sounding cliché, the Dinner Party Project has been as much of a learning experience for me as for the students. I grew up in rural Vermont, where it’s hard to avoid a basic knowledge of food and farming. Walk into the fifth-grade classroom in my hometown elementary school and not only will you find students that know where milk comes from, you’ll meet a few who have milked their own dairy cows. But New York City, culturally rich as it may be in a thousand other ways, it takes an active effort to get to know how your food arrived on your plate. I was impressed by how interested these city kids were in tracing their dinners and eating with the seasons.

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I was even more impressed by how much they took home. In a big class that meets just once a week, it can be hard to gauge how much of our discussions about healthful eating and meaningful mealtimes actually sink in.  We also knew from the kids’ stories that it can be difficult for busy families to sit and eat together without distractions, let alone shop and cook fresh food together. That’s why I was so excited by what I later heard from parents: “My daughter has been talking about portion sizes at dinnertime.” “When I take her to the grocery store, she reads the labels of every beverage I take off the shelf: ‘Look at all that sugar, Mom.’” Parents told us their children had asked them to put their phones away at dinnertime (they also requested that at the dinner party itself) and were planning to help them prepare food at Thanksgiving. Their hard work in class was paying off at home around the dinner table.

Spoons Across America, 11/20/13

And tonight, it’s all coming together. For hours the students, with the help of some dedicated volunteers from Spoons, City Tech, and the community, have been slicing and peeling, measuring and whisking. They have wept over the pungent shallots and taken turns stirring epic proportions of thick pumpkin puree and ricotta to fill the vegetarian lasagna. They have shaved parsnip and carrots into translucent ribbons for our carpaccio salad, and practiced the knife skills we learned a few weeks ago, using safety knives to slice celery and peppers for our crudité-in-a-cup. Now, as the cafeteria fills with hungry parents and siblings, the kids are jostling for the chance to pass around the soup and salad, practicing their spiels (“Have you tried our crudité?”). I watch a student peer out from the student lounge, where we’re ladling up the last of the soup, and whisper to the crowd at large: “You’re welcome.”

Spoons Across America, 11/20/13

Thank you, I think. A week from Thanksgiving, I am full of gratitude: for the chance to be involved in this incredible program, for the weeks I’ve spent learning from Hope’s passion for food and talent with kids, for their dedicated teachers and our volunteers (some of whom stuck around long after they planned to leave this afternoon), and for the fact that we’ve somehow managed to pull it all off as the families begin to sit down. Mostly, I am thankful I got to work with these funny, talented, and enthusiastic students.

Time to eat.

Catherine Lea is a personal chef and teaches after-school cooking classes for kids. She has studied food and farming in Vermont, New York, and Cuba. She lives in Harlem and writes on regional farm and labor issues.

Thank you to Dinner Party Project Managers Hope Mirlis and Catherine Lea for working with the students at PS111 on this project. Thank you also goes to Bloomberg LP for funding the project, volunteers from City Tech, Chef Charles Rodriguez from Print Restaurant, Rose Brook for photos, and all our tireless supporters and volunteers.

View more pictures from The Dinner Party Project below:

 

Guest Post: Julia Vita Boland Jordan, Founder of Spoons Across America

We are so very honored to have  Spoons Founder, Julia Jordan, share her memories of food, eating from the land, and family with our community. As you read, you’ll see that Julia learned about healthy eating (in its largest definition) from her family. Where did YOU first learn about eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle? Take this very quick poll, and the Kashi REAL Project will donate $1 to Spoons Across America. Join us as we raise $35,000 to support our nutrition and food education programs for children.

1950’s Food Memories at the Bolands and the Founding of Spoons Across America

Mulberries, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Olives and Romano Cheese … Lettuce, Cabbage, Spinach and herbs from our kitchen window garden … basil, parsley, and garlic too!

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Students cut vegetables as part of The Dinner Party Project.

I grew up in a family in which we didn’t know the terms seasonal or healthy eating … what other kind was there!   Truth be told, out-of-season meant we went to the fruit cellar in the basement and brought up the clove-speared pickled peaches to dress the ham. Or the Concord grape jelly, made during the 2 weeks in which grapes were picked and sorted, boiled and hung in layers of cheesecloth … dripping juice into a big pot over night … waking up the next day to complete the task … sugar and pectin to the mix …  and boiling jars and lids and …. filling ….. and waiting overnight to make sure the lids popped … so the seal was secure …  and then waiting again ..  the longest time …. Then, in mid-winter, peanut butter and Concord grape jelly sandwiches for school lunch.

Winters of quart jars of thin-skinned tomatoes w/salt and basil … a pre requisite number would get us through the winter months of weekly family meals:  Thursdays– spaghetti and meatballs, Fridays—meatless pizza with mushrooms ….  And on family festive occasions manicotti or lasagna … hand rolled paper-thin noodles… That was the norm.

Summer meant picking sour cherries from the neighbor’s tree and making scrumptious pies, out maneuvering squirrels to get the best of the ripe peaches and Bartlett pears.  Annual Father’s Day celebrations at Grandpa’s … a mulberry feasting frenzy … invariably another white dress was permanently purple stained … a mark of deliciously fragrant and sweet eating.

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Promoting family dinners is one of the goals of Spoons Across America

Fall meant living in a pungent, pickling spice environment for 4 days in September every growing-up year … mandoline at the ready … Mom slicing the cucumbers just so for the tastiest bread and butter pickles on the planet …  just the right amount of onions mixed in with that vinegar and ….  the bean relish, sometimes more yellow and orange, sometimes more green and red …  depending on which farmer had the best beans and carrots and bell peppers on the day we went to the farmers market down in the Flats near Distribution Terminal in Cleveland, Ohio.

This is why Spoons Across America was established … a group of folks who were as passionate as me about food and how it weaves its way from farm to table (our official 501 C3 name), got together at a moment when no one understood that children and families and teachers had lost their connection to the land and its bounty, to its rhythms and cycles and no one seemed to care about the consequences ….  Luckily today there are many organizations working tirelessly to get us reconnected and Spoons is one that serves to influence and create the joy, magic, and power of a food-centered life. One in which food memories are filled with love and compassion and awe and interdependence  … where we teach children to be stewards of the land and its limited resources.

With fond memories,

Julia Vita Boland Jordan

Spoons founder, Julia Jordan with Advisory Board member, Marion Nestle

Spoons founder, Julia Jordan with Advisory Board member, Marion Nestle

Guest Post: Hallie Meyer, Spoons Across America Intern

Hallie worked with Spoons Across America during June and July thanks to a Professional Development Internship from The Culinary Trust. Born and raised in Manhattan, Hallie is a rising Junior at Yale University with a passion for food, food justice, and sustainability. We were lucky to have her enthusiasm and excitement for our mission with us this summer and look forward to continuing to have her on our team in the months and years to come.

My love for the kitchen is real – so real that at some point or another I read every single cookbook in my household from cover to cover. I probably should have been doing homework, but if it weren’t for all that productive procrastinating, I wouldn’t be here today interning at Spoons Across America.

385516_4482878075975_761451106_nI was drawn to Spoons Across America because I share the organization’s belief that an appreciation and understanding of food starts at the table. The act of cooking is an exercise in generosity and service. It takes time to go to the market, plan a menu, gather friends, clean the house. There is something so undeniably vital, spiritual, and essential to gathering around the table with other humans, and celebrating life over a home-cooked meal. That’s the way to get any message across – through sheer visceral enjoyment and connection. I was eager to engage in a kind of work this summer that would allow me to share my passion for the power of food as a source of conviviality, and think about this issue in a more cerebral way.

In a perfect world, there is always an excuse to be in the kitchen. Growing up, cooking dinner for my family acted as a kind of homework break. Being in the kitchen and handling ingredients – whether chopping onions or rolling dough –provided a moment of respite. Schooldays were draining, (as any workday can) but in the kitchen, there was a distinct purpose to my work: to cook dinner, to make it tasty, to make it healthy, and to enjoy it with my family. It was a place where I knew my role, and a world I was fortunate to grow up exposed to. And so, when my algebra II homework got old, I’d find myself baking homemade granola or experimenting with uses for asparagus butts.

I was fortunate to grow up exposed to good, seasonal food as a way of life, and I appreciated that fact more and more every day. So in my junior year of high school, I left home to attend a semester program in Vermont called The Mountain School. There, forty-five other students and I lived and worked on an organic farm that we also called home. We birthed sheep, took classes, grew vegetables, and mopped the dining hall.  Never before had I felt so connected to a place, its land, its food, and its people. I came home more excited than ever about embracing the deliciousness of sustainability, and spent the next summer maintaining my family’s home garden and working on Waldingfield Farm in Connecticut.

Here’s the thing, though: trying to keep up with the summer harvest from just a half-acre home garden is harder than you might think. Even six people eating three meals a day out of the garden just won’t do it – the kale and zucchini just keep coming. And when we got sick of forcing bags of arugula on our friends (and their friends), I decided to learn about the art of jarring. I began preserving my family’s rhubarb, plums, and peaches in the form of jams and sauces, and pickling my cucumbers and carrots.599790_10200920035865764_1681706436_n

Some of my favorite days at Waldingfield were those spent running the stand in the Sandyhook farmers’ market. I loved the face-to-face aspect of it – answering the “what do I do with bok choy?” question, or teaching customers about the different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and sneaking samples of sungolds all day long.

That summer at Waldingfield led me to seek out a job during my senior year of high school with City Harvest, an organization that fights hunger in New York. There, I worked as a nutrition education intern, giving cooking classes to children and their parents from low-income neighborhoods of the Bronx, imparting strategies for healthy cooking on a budget. I remember the first recipe I made with the class was carrot ginger soup; we chopped carrots with plastic safety knives and sautéed them on a hot plate that was set up on a table in the classroom. I can still picture one student, Robert, looking quizzically at a carrot in his hand, telling me he had never seen one with green leaves on its top. It shocked me at first. And though it took a whole afternoon of being the hands that made that carrot ginger soup, Robert was eventually open to the idea of tasting it.  And when he did, he loved it. I relished the feeling of having successfully imparted enthusiasm for a topic in which I was deeply invested – of having made a positive change in someone’s life, and having communicated it through sheer deliciousness.

My work at City Harvest as well as my other experiences have revealed to me the nuances of a question I’ve been wrestling with for quite some time: can families like Robert’s ever make real, affordable, long-term change? Restaurants do it, companies do it, but can a lower income household also be a healthy and sustainable one? I realize that the answer to this question is one rooted in issues deeper than convenience and food cost; it is an issue of education and exposure and finding the right way to spread the word about how affordable, sustainable, and wonderful it can be to cook for oneself and one’s family. And I sure do hope to make a valuable contribution to answering those questions. Spoons has been just the place for that, and I look forward to seeing another year of successful food literacy programs for kids.

Uptown to Downtown: The Dinner Party Project Promotes Family Meals

“I think the Dinner Party Project was really fun! I didn’t participate last time but I loved it this time. I learned how to chop tomatoes so that they don’t explode all over you! I also learned how to make delicious crostini and burritos. I’ve already tried working on the crostinis at home and it was a big hit! I think I might use these recipes at family gatherings Overall, it was awesome!!!’- Lainey

Over 150 4th and 5th graders participated in one of five Dinner Parties as the culmination to our signature program, The Dinner Party Project. In this hands-on multi-week program, 4th and 5th grade students learned all the steps involved in planning and executing a dinner party for their classmates, families, and invited guests. The goals of The Dinner Party Project directly align with our mission of promoting healthy eating around the family table. We are particularly grateful to our Dinner Party Project supporters; The New York Women’s Culinary Alliance who supported The Dinner Party Project at The Earth School and the Gracie Mansion Foundation, UBS and The Julia Child Foundation for supporting The Dinner Party Project collaboration between PS 132 and Gracie Mansion.

Down on East 6th Street… At the Earth School in the East Village, cooking teacher Tim Lammers incorporates the lessons and goals of The Dinner Party Project into his yearlong cooking curriculum for 4th and 5th graders. Lessons about nutrition, table setting, etiquette and choosing a party theme took place along weekly cooking lessons. “The kids get upset when they don’t cook every week,” says Lammers, so he is sure to include some element of cooking or food preparation into every class. By the time of the parties in the school cafeteria, the students have prepared every dish at least twice. This was the 2nd year of the project at the Earth School and as such, the 5th graders participated last year as 4th graders. Jia Lee, 4th/5th grade classroom teacher, remarked that the 5th graders took on a leadership role with the 4th graders, and Tim noticed that “they took it very seriously” since they knew a little bit of what it was like.The project culminated this April and May when the students cooked in one of 4 class parties of family members, teachers, and special guests. By all accounts, it was a great time!

” It was very fun to help. I love cooking different thing[s]. It was exciting. I learn about checking stuff that I eat or drink and I will love to share it with my family.”- VJ

“I like making the food with different people and learning about them while working… I enjoyed making the menu for the dinner party because I liked listening to other people’s ideas. I also liked trying new things for the menu.”- Maya

“From the beginning to the end, I LOVED the dinner party! The food was great! Ans I was not the only one who loved it- including my family who I brought to the party. Everything from the beginning speech to the ending desert was great. Even though the party just ended, I can’t wait for the next one.”- Serena

Check out the photos below and then read on to find out what’s happening 175 blocks uptown!

 

Meanwhile…. Up in Washington Heights

Making Guacamole!

Making Guacamole!

The students at PS 132 in Washington Heights, under the direction of Spoons Project Leader Hope Mirlis, just completed the 8th annual Dinner Party Project collaboration with UBS and Gracie Mansion. Volunteers from UBS Event Marketing Department, led by Lynn Duffy and Natalie Law, worked with students in two 5th grade classrooms creating invitations and festive centerpieces, along with engaging lessons on healthy behaviors and nutrition. These include a hands-on demonstration of the actual amount of sugar in their favorite sodas and “juices”. (About 20 teaspoons in a 20 oz bottle of Mountain Dew!) Mercedes Nunez from Gracie Mansion visited to teach the kids about fresh herbs and led the students in planting purple basil and thyme for decorations at the party. And once again, Gracie Mansion Executive Chef Feliberto Estévez and his team visited to teach the students to make his “#1 Guacamole in the World” which they recreated at the party at Gracie Mansion on the May 31st.

The party was attended by Spoons staff, Board members, and special guests, but the real stars of the night were the students and their families. They participated in the annual “salad parade” serving flawlessly at each table, and then sat down to enjoy a meal of grilled chicken and shrimp with pineapple salsa with their families. In between dinner and a dessert of flan and homemade cookies, students, teachers, mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends of Spoons took a turn on the dance floor to the sounds of Clave Azul, the wonderful band from IS 143. Thank you again to the Julia Child Foundation and The Gracie Mansion Conservancy for their support of this project. We also are indebted to all our volunteers including the City Tech Spoons Club and UBS Eventing Marketing for their tireless work. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

 

 

 

 

Agriculture Literacy Day 2013

By the Numbers… Agriculture Literacy Week 2013

26 schools
96 classrooms
5 boroughs
2,356 students
1 high school partnership
34 volunteers
100% of books donated (Cornell Cooperative Extension and Random House)
24 jars of honey donated (Let it Bee Honey)
0 sick or late volunteers

Even a Spring snowstorm couldn’t keep our volunteers and schools from teaching 2nd graders all over New York City about urban beekeeping and the process of making honey on a rooftop in Brooklyn. As part of this years New York Agriculture Literacy Week, Spoons trained volunteers from all over New York City visited 2nd grade classrooms throughout New York City to read The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi and Kristin Booker.  After reading this beautifully illustrated story describing the process of beekeeping and honey collecting on a rooftop in Brooklyn, students participated in a sequencing activity tied to Common Core educational standards and were given some honey to sample and a recipe for honey vinaigrette to take home and share with their families.
Here is a sampling of pictures from the week: For more photos of this and other programs, visit our FACEBOOK page.

Hope reads The HoneyBee Man to a group of 2nd graders.

 

High School students from Abraham Lincoln High School read to 2nd graders at PS 102 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

High School students from Abraham Lincoln High School read to 2nd graders at PS 102 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

 

Sonya reads to second graders at PS 42 in Manhattan.

Sonya reads to second graders at PS 42 in Manhattan.

 

Sequencing the steps in the production of NY honey.

Sequencing the steps in the production of NY honey.

 

More sequencing!

More sequencing!

 

 A future beekeeper?

A future beekeeper?

 

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS ON OUR FACEBOOK PAGE

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