FeedmeMinistry Of Controversy

Vegetables Should Taste Good!

Helen Baer4 comments3783 views
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The New York Times ran a piece this week about the results of federal legislation mandating healthier school lunches beginning this year. Because of puritanical restrictions on fat and salt, the healthy food has no flavor and many kids are just rejecting it.

Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune has also done fantastic reporting about the insanity that is lunch in the Chicago Public Schools. (Eng is everything a food writer should be–actually expending shoe leather talking to the cafeteria lunch ladies and the students.) Chicago regulations prohibit adding any salt to vegetables, when, of course, as the story I linked to points out, the vast majority of salt in our diet comes from processed foods, not from a pinch of salt added to something made from scratch. There is an additional irony in that the Chicago approach to healthy eating occurs in schools that generally lack kitchens that allow for the preparation of fresh foods. It’s all reheat-only.

So the kids throw their lunches out or eat out of vending machines. Talk about counterproductive!

If you want kids to eat vegetables, here’s a hint: They should taste good.

Our experience at the Lake Avenue Elementary School Garden Project is entirely different. We not only garden with the kids, we cook with them–and seriously! For example, faced with the world’s most beautiful green cabbage in early September and hot weather that suggested it would soon rot and be eaten by slugs, we made pierogi with it–namely, smoked pork and cabbage pierogi, as well as potato, ricotta and cheddar pierogi. We grew the potatoes, too.

This was the opposite of a low-fat, low-sodium meal. Serious amounts of sour cream, pork fat, and butter. But it was delicious! And a lot of kids who never particularly liked cabbage before now like cabbage.

In fact, we find that the kids in our increasingly popular club will eat almost ANYTHING they grow and cook. And I am including beets and bitter eggplants. My partner Carol Maxwell and I always make sure that the recipe is delicious. We are both food people without any fear of bacon fat or cream, olive oil or sea salt, and she is truly a kick-ass cook who expands my horizons as well as the kids’.

But the truth is also that the vegetables that come out of our garden are so delicious in themselves, that the kids will eat them without prodding.

My feeling is that until you have tasted locally grown or homegrown vegetables, you have never tasted a vegetable. So “healthier” school lunches made with tired sad produce shipped all the way from California, or frozen or canned vegetables, are probably not enticing.

Look, institutional cooking is hard. I understand that. But many of us live in places surrounded by superb local farmers. I would bet that if you tapped that resource, as my school district does, and gave the Food Service people wider creative latitude–and kitchens they could cook in–healthier eating would move out of the realm of theory and policy and into kids’ lives.

Posted by

Michele Owens
on October 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm, in the category Eat This, Feed Me, Ministry of Controversy.


  1. If our kids palettes weren’t already over stimulated by processed food then the health options wouldn’t be rejected. I’m still shocked that pizza is considered a vegetable, because the sauce once was a tomato. Thats why we send our kindergartner off to school with a bag lunch, with an actual tomato! A big subject to poke a stick at. I look forward to reading all the responses.

  2. I know the women in charge of the lunch program for our local school district. A very health minded individual who runs marathons, lives on a farm, does home canning. She says they require 3/4 cup serving of vegetables which is more than she would eat at a serving and she likes the stuff. They are not allowed to make the much loved “lunch lady cookies”. So much food is thrown out it is insane.

  3. Good tasting food is a must, but it’s not the only challenge. If children are not used to eating healthy fresh food, simply putting it on a plate and giving them twenty minutes to eat it isn’t enough. Food culture is learned and learning takes time and resources. Just ask Mcdonalds how much time and resources they have spent convincing our kids that McNuggets are the way to go. If we want to teach this generation of children how to eat healthfully and help them redefine delicious (that’s a big if) then that’s going to take a lesson plan. (and some good food is going to wind up in the trash.)

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