We’re celebrating Food Superheroes everywhere and inviting food lovers to transform themselves into Food Superheroes by showing off their powers to support a healthy, sustainable food system through the small actions they take each day. For every Food Superhero profile created, we will donate $1 to FoodCorps.
FoodCorps is a non-profit which places motivated leaders in limited-resource communities for a year of public service. Through the hands and minds of emerging leaders, FoodCorps strives to give all youth an enduring relationship with healthy food. Working under the direction of local partner organizations, FoodCorps Service Members implement a three-ingredient recipe for healthy kids: Delivering hands-on nutrition education; building and tending school gardens; and bringing high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.
FoodCorps service member Sarah Rubin shared her personal Food Superhero story.
It was a cold February morning at Veterans’ Memorial Elementary, and I stood in the school kitchen with both my gloved hands submerged in a five-gallon bucket of cubed pickles. It was Pickle Pioneer Day, an event of our own creation, and we were hustling to prepare samples for the entire student body before lunchtime.
Pickle Pioneer Day is one of several cafeteria events my FoodCorps colleagues and I have coordinated at Veterans’ and Beeman Memorial Elementary Schools this spring. During these themed, monthly celebrations, we decorate the cafeteria, prepare samples of nutritious, kid-friendly foods, and encourage the students to have a taste. As FoodCorps service members who build school gardens and coordinate nutrition education, we believe that both the garden and the cafeteria are an extension of the classroom. Certainly, over the past few months we’ve discovered that school lunch presents an array of teachable moments that can lead to healthier choices.
The overarching theme we chose for our cafeteria event series was ‘adventurous eating’. By framing each event as an adventure, we hope to acknowledge that trying new foods requires courage and spunk. During these festivities, we like to use our imagination to transform cafeteria staff into ‘super cooks’ and students into superheroes.
Take Pickle Pioneer Day. The cucumber pickles were familiar enough, but the pickled daikon radish required young eaters to step outside their comfort zones. We rewarded those brave enough to sample both pickles with a ‘Pickle Pioneer’ sticker, and let them vote for their favorite of the two at the end of their lunch period.
An additional program objective is the involvement of students’ families in the conversation about eating well. We recognize that students’ eating habits at home may inform their willingness or reluctance to try the healthier options being introduced into school lunch, and vice versa. We create themed placemats for each event that we send home with the kids at the end of the school day. Each placemat has a cartoon image for them to color in, a simple recipe, and a section called “Cooking up Conversation,” which includes a series of questions meant to prompt mealtime communication between students and their families.
Of course, these lunchtime festivities are about more than placemats, stickers, and fun themes. Our events are about building trust, creating a safe environment, and starting a dialogue about food. The process has taken time, but over the last few months our small team has gained credibility. The students know now that ‘healthy’ doesn’t always equate to ‘unappetizing,’ a triumph in and of itself.
Change can’t happen overnight. Some students still leave the veggies and whole grains on their tray untouched, instead fixing their attention on their bag of chips. But when I sit down to lunch with the kids, I see progress. I notice a few second graders sticking straws in fresh oranges to extract the juice, and some fourth graders garnishing their pizza with spinach leaves. One day, a kindergartner proudly showed me the veggies and fruits in her lunch box. “Grapes are my favorite,” she told me. And I feel relieved, because I know that these kids are not just ordinary elementary school students but superheroes in disguise. They are Pickle Pioneers on a mission to eat food that is as exciting to their palates as it is healthy for their bodies. They just don’t know it yet.
(this post originally appeared on Simmer and Boil, the Cooking Light blog)
What small steps do you take with your kids to help them attain Food Superhero status?
Sarah Rubin has spent the past year as a FoodCorps service member in Gloucester, MA, where she helped to integrate garden-based learning into the teacher curriculum at a local elementary school. She led activities in the garden and the classroom, and worked with food service staff to promote healthy and adventurous eating. Before FoodCorps she spent a previous year with AmeriCorps developing gardening resources for school children, and also apprenticed on an organic far vegetable farm in Maine.