Coming to Our Senses in the Concrete Jungle

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).

From our Table to Yours: A Soup to Warm your Soul

Happy Thanksgiving from Spoons Across America! Enjoy this kid-friendly recipe from SAA Culinary Educator Catherine Lea.  

The 5th graders at PS 132 made this simple soup full of rich fall flavors for their families earlier this month. Now you can try it at home! Kids can help look for local squash and apples at the grocery store or farmers’ market, and if an adult peels the squash and cuts it down to size, smaller hands can scoop out the seeds and chop the squash and apples into smaller chunks. Blending the soup until it’s smooth and creamy is a wonderful transformation for kids to watch.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
Makes 8-10 servings Ingredients

2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
2 onions
2 medium butternut squash
2 apples
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups apple cider/juice

Peel the butternut squash, cut in half, and remove seeds. Cut into chunks. Peel and cut apples into chunks. Chop onions.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large soup pot. Add onions and cook 15-20 minutes. Add squash, apples, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and broth. (Now is a good time to add a teaspoon or two of any other spices you may want – curry powder goes well here). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes, until squash is tender.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender) until smooth. Stir in the apple cider. Season to taste and serve.


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.”

Girl with apple2

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.

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