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.
Spoons 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.”
We 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.
Spoons 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.
 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.