In honor of Kids Eat Right month for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics I am brining you a story from my experience working with elementary school children last Fall in Maryland during my Dietetic Internship.
“The last rule I need each of you to remember before we start our tasting is that no matter what, everyone will take at least one bite of the pear today.”
I looked around the first grade classroom, trying to discern if the message had made sense to the 20 or so 6-year-olds that, unlike me, seemed to be eagerly awaiting their piece of pear.
“That means, even if you think you don’t like pears or fruit at all, you are going to take at least one bite,” I made eye contact with the boy who just minutes before had pronounced, “I don’t like fruit and vegetables.” He nodded.
Good, I thought. You and me both buddy.
Despite a degree in nutritional sciences, a love of apples, grapes, beets and dozens of other fruits and vegetables and the title of dietetic intern, I had yet to come to terms with the pear.
As I delivered a pear slice to each child, I did my best not to look at the oddly porous, white flesh of a fruit I had never voluntarily eaten.
“It looks funny,” one of the kids said as I placed a tasting dish in front of her. I wanted to agree, but I stopped myself. I had just told each of these kids that they had to try the pear. I supposedly wanted them to learn to love fruit. I wanted them to choose it as a snack over crackers or cookies. I wanted each one of these first graders, to grow up to be healthy, strong adults. I wanted them to have health eating habits from the start, and not spend their adult lives relearning how to eat. I wanted that even if it meant that in less than a minute I would bite into my least favorite fruit, smile and say “yum.”
In my past two weeks working with the Food Supplement Nutrition Education program I have learned that in order to convince others to change or try something new, you yourself must model that very behavior.
During this time, I ate Tuscan Kale salad in order to help nearly 900 elementary schoolers try it for the first time, and a week later more than 100 bought it for lunch! Additionally, I ate apple coleslaw in 85 degree heat so farmers market shoppers felt brave enough to give it a taste, raw fennel at a food bank where it was available in abundance, two different types of apple slices amidst enthusiastic fourth graders, and (of course) a slice from the smallest pear I’ve ever seen while I watched nearly all of the first graders chow down with a smile on their face.
“Oh, wow, that’s good”;
“I actually like that”;
“Can I have some more?”
I heard again and again at each event.
Children and adults alike were trying and learning to give fruits and vegetables a chance. They discovered that they could be yummy, and even better than that, they could keep them healthy.
But what about me? Could I learn that lesson? Would I be able to not only choke down a bite of pear and slice of fennel, but could I really learn to give once disliked or less common fruits and veggies a chance? I don’t want to speak too soon, but I will say that I didn’t just take one bite of pear.
If you’re interested in learning more about child nutrition and packing a healthy lunch for back to school please check out my upcoming event at the New Canaan Public Library at 1p.m. Friday, August 24. Hope to see you there!