Good Food in Our Community (part three)
While the Magic Food Bus may be visited by all, our hope is also that we will reach as many children as possible--those who are still building their taste palates, who may be particularly curious about and open to trying new foods, and who otherwise may have little control over the food that is available to them on a regular basis.
Each person accumulates a lifetime of food-memories, traditions, and associations that inform their food preferences. Children are still in the early stages of this development, and are able to incorporate new tastes with less resistance (and usually more enthusiasm) than adults.
Adults typically make food decisions for children based on their own individual preferences-- and the socio-economic circumstances in which they live. Depending on the adult’s diet, they may be prone to claiming, “my child doesn’t eat vegetables” or, when faced with an opportunity to try a new food, the adult may refuse it for themselves and on behalf of their child, remarking, “my child won’t like that.” In reality, children sometimes need 5-10 exposures to a new food before they will become comfortable with it and familiar with its taste and texture. When children have repeated tasting opportunities, they often change their reaction from rejecting to accepting the food into their diet. It’s important that as adults, we model healthy eating and an open attitude toward healthy food, and that we make time for this repeated-exposure process--especially with fresh vegetables, which support children’s development and help fight against the high rates of childhood obesity prevalent in the U.S.
As parents, teachers, and food service providers, we are responsible for creating an eating environment that maximizes each child’s health and well-being. Low income or other constraints on one’s ability to procure healthy food can affect a child’s early food experiences and may impact their food choices and relationship to food later in life. There are a wide range of services that can support local families who struggle with food insecurity (start with the Community Resource Guide); schools and service providers often play a significant role in supplementing food availability and in shaping a child’s diet by providing free or reduced-price school meals and cooking classes, gardening programs, and food tasting experiences.
At the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School, Edible Island’s enrichment classes provide hands-on opportunities for children to develop and refine their taste preferences, while building kitchen skills and encouraging intuitive cooking. Students begin with a lesson on the five basic tastes and continue to learn about manipulating tastes and flavors as they create salsas, muffins, ravioli, pizza, latkes, sushi, and other dishes. They also develop safe and healthy food preparation practices through supervised knife work, proper hygiene and sanitation, and accurate measurement. We offer several series of classes for students in grades 5-8, and will be expanding to grades 3-4 for this upcoming fall. During the 2016-2017 school year, we had 20% of the DIS Elementary School students participate in our elective cooking class, and we hope to grow that percentage in 2017-2018.
Edible Island also partnered with the Deer Isle-Stonington High School to launch an exciting new course during the 2016-2017 school year that extended these Elementary-level skills and concepts. This course combined the building blocks of a culinary education with the real-world application of being responsible for their school food-service operation. Through the course, a team of students worked with the school and Edible Island staff to plan, prepare, and serve the school lunch every Friday. During the classes leading up to service on Friday, students were responsible for overseeing all aspects of the meal, including writing a menu, sourcing the food, preparing a meal budget, and ensuring that the meal meets all nutritional guidelines. Additionally, students marked their meal to the student body, with the goal of increasing daily meal participation rates. Supplemented with weekly readings, field trips, and seminars, they explored and built an understanding of key food systems topics such as food waste, local agriculture, regional cuisines, and aquaculture. Edible Island noted a considerable shift in school lunch participation during these Fridays in the 2016-2017 school year: 40% of high school students ate hot lunch, compared to an average of 20% on other days, demonstrating how peer investment can re-energize the perception of (and excitement around) school food.
During the school year, there are several community-based initiatives aimed at improving food quality and food availability for youth around the Blue Hill Peninsula. During the Blue Hill Peninsula food security meeting this past spring, we learned that the Tree of Life supplies the Harbor School’s food pantry (and serves as a community service site for its students) as well as snack boxes at George Stevens Academy and a small backpack program for students to take home food on the weekends. Healthy Acadia and a volunteer at George Stevens Academy are tackling school lunch prices and the cafeteria environment by partnering with school staff to investigate how school meals can become more affordable and popular among students. Our food security colleagues are also considering how to leverage potential resources through the USDA Fresh Food Snack Program, Harvest of the Month program (bringing gleaned produce to school food service and marketing it to students), and ProStart culinary arts education and high school career training.
Enrichment classes and supplemental programs aside, many area students rely on their district’s federal reimbursement program for free or reduced-price lunches at school (learn more about the national school lunch program). These are meals that may be otherwise unavailable to their families due to low income or other food access barriers. While symptomatic of larger issues around food distribution and equity, we are grateful that subsidies exist for eligible districts to provide regular meals for these students during the school year (see school district eligibility percentages across the state). Outside of the school year, however, there is a distinct lack of established free summer meals sites in the area. Local food security advocates have expressed unanimous concern for how students that are dependent on school meals would be able to eat during the summer months.
Here on Deer Isle, we are fortunate to have a strong summer meals program for children up to age 18 at the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School during summer school and at the Stonington Community Center during day camp as a supplement for the months when children are not receiving meals at school. In addition to receiving free summer meals, students were able to attend Edible Island’s on-site cooking classes to learn how to blend “rainbow smoothies” with foods of different colors, how to construct “party salads” with ingredients from a variety of food groups, and how to make fresh salsa, among other lessons; all while building skills in food handling, tool safety, recipe creation, cleanup, and nutrition education. We also brought the Magic Food Bus to summer school each week, providing tasting opportunities and extra fresh produce for children to take home. Our prepared recipes included quick fridge pickles, carrot top pesto, cucumber salsa, pineapple coleslaw, and variations on kale salad; and we found that most children are ready to sample a new recipe, especially if they are encouraged to try “just a bite,” are given “permission” not to like it the first time, and receive friendly reminders to give foods second, third, fourth, and even fifth chances. Many children are eager to try new raw foods, as well--especially if they participate in growing them--such as round lemon cucumbers (“The whole world should eat this!” exclaimed one student), sliced salad turnips, and even whole radishes. We just need to give them a chance.
Next week we will conclude our series on Good Food in Our Community with a discussion on food distribution and social support. In the meantime, we hope you will try this refreshing late-summer treat, which we'll sample on the Magic Food Bus this week: Peach, Cucumber, and Mint Smoothies.
Peach, Cucumber, and Mint Smoothies
2 peaches, skin on
2 small cucumbers, skin on
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp fresh mint
1 tbsp lime juice
¼ cup milk
½ cup vanilla (greek) yogurt
1½ cups ice cubes
Combine all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth, and enjoy!