Taste Buds Blossom with a Lesson on Plant Parts!

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Julia Meurice
Service Member in Gaston County, North Carolina with Gaston County Cooperative Extension

Think for a minute about the first time you try a new food. Do you just swallow the thing whole, no questions asked? Do you smell the new food? Do you maybe poke it, observe it, shake it, make some comments about how it looks or what it might taste like and THEN maybe take a small bite? Eating is a sensory experience and all foods are not created equal! Children, who are naturally more sensitive to their surroundings, are memorably impacted by these new culinary sensory experiences.

Take for example, Miss. Robinson’s third grade class at Gardner Park Elementary in Gastonia, North Carolina. One cloudy February, each student sat patiently in their chair, eyes alight, heads tilted curiously towards the table where lay on a cutting board 6 foods representing the 6 basic anatomical parts of a plant. These parts included the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. For a large class of 22 students, the silence of growing anticipation was impressive! One by one, each student walked up to the plant parts table to pick-up their own tasting plate. They had been encouraged, “as chefs for the day,” to critically analyze the flavor profile of each plant part and think of a descriptive word to characterize its taste.

It all began with a radish. The root! What does it look like? What happens in your mouth when you bite it? One student cried out, “It tastes like fireworks in my mouth!” Next came the celery. The stem! Are those strings inside? Wow, its juicy and sweet. Following celery, the spinach was consumed. The leaf! Adjectives around the room for spinach ranged from “soft” to “creamy” to “smooth”. Afterwards, students tasted broccoli florets. The flowers! A small number of students pegged the broccoli as “bitter” and hard to bite into. Each student took a bite from a single large juicy red grape. The fruit! “Wait, there’s seeds inside of here?!” exclaimed Diego. The last plant part represented were sunflower seeds. Seeds? Yes! Edible seeds. Woah. “Crunchy, salty, and meaty” were the descriptions called aloud for sunflower seeds.

After the activity, we reflected as class which tastes we most enjoyed and which were unpleasant at first on our tongues. The grapes were the favorite taste of “sweet” followed by the spinach “soft” and the celery “juicy and crunchy.”

Alas the broccoli won few fans but demonstrated the taste of bitter. One student described how their grandma makes a broccoli casserole with LOTS of cheddar cheese, so we talked as a class about why cheese balances the bitter flavor. With this lesson Miss. Robinson’s class demonstrated their open palates to new flavors, as well as their ability to understand how foods can have a number of flavor and texture profiles. They even reflected on how trying vegetables in different ways can totally change their flavor! (Thanks Grandma). This activity was fun, educational and science-based and had NC core-curriculum themes throughout. And hopefully this third grade classroom will not soon forget their roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds!