By Anahad O’Connor for the New York Times
On a recent Tuesday, the cafeteria at KairosPDX charter school in Portland, Ore., was buzzing as students lined up to taste two freshly made butternut squash recipes. On one side of the table was roasted butternut squash. On the other side, a creamy butternut squash soup.
“This one is the best,” said Mari, a fifth grader, as she gulped soup from a small cup. “It’s super delicious. I want a big bowl of it to eat at home.”
The students were participating in a “Tasty Challenge” event organized by FoodCorps, a nonprofit organization that connects children to healthy food in schools. The group recently teamed up with Sweetgreen, the national salad chain, to carry out a new program that aims to improve the school food experience by letting students customize their meals, participate in taste tests and brainstorm ways to redesign their school cafeterias.
As part of the initiative, called “Reimagining School Cafeterias,” the students at KairosPDX got to compare the two butternut squash recipes and then vote on their favorite one using an iPad. The soup won in a landslide, and the school is considering adding it to the cafeteria lunch menu.
While there are many organizations that are working to improve school food, FoodCorps preaches that children fall in love with fruits and vegetables when they have opportunities to grow them, prepare them, and try them again and again. The group shows children how to get their hands in the dirt, encouraging them to spend time in gardens pulling carrots, beets and sweet potatoes from the ground. Then the children get to taste the fruits of their labor and learn about them through culinary and nutrition lessons.
“It’s incredibly important to give kids the tools and skills they need to build their own relationship with healthy food, and our job is to support them in that,” said Curt Ellis, the group’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “It’s about helping them discover what they love to eat rather than telling them what they should eat.”