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Monday, April 30, 2012

Turning Picky Eaters Into Wholesome Chefs

Students from Alanna Craffey's third grade class cut up fresh fruits for their smoothies.Aiden holds up the bag of scraps, which are headed for the compost heap.

As schools grapple with ways to make their lunches healthier, they face another challenge: getting kids to eat them.

Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst is trying to change the attitudes kids have about food. After joining First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign in 2010, Gunst teamed up with Central School in her hometown of South Berwick, Maine.

“In June 2010, I went to the White House, and Michelle Obama said everyone will say no to you,” Gunst said. “But I went to the principal, and she said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.'”

Gunst launched a program at Central School where she teaches kindergarten through third grade students how to prepare healthy snacks and meals. She believes it’s essential to win them over at an early age. But she has her work cut out for her.

Central School cafeteria manager, Kim Clemente, said the students here fit the national stereotype: they go crazy for chicken nuggets and pizza.

A recent sampling of student lunches turned up a mix of healthy meals like pasta, salad and fruit. But plenty of kids were also subsisting off Goldfish crackers, Pop Tarts and Rice Krispee treats.

Clemente said since Gunst started working with students, they have made some healthy changes at the school, with varied degrees of success.

“We went from breaded chicken patties to chicken fillet that’s not breaded, and they’re not too happy about that. But that’s what we’re serving now: whole grains. They love fresh fruit,” Clemente said. “But yeah, that’s what they mainly like, pizza!”

The Next Top Chefs
Over the past two years, Gunst has taught a class with every single student at Central School.

Recently, she introduced them to kale chips and fruit smoothies (see recipes below).

Many students said they had never tried kale before, and they were apprehensive about trying the leafy, green produce.

“Most kids when I said turnips, they said, ‘Uck.’ When I said kale, they said, ‘What’s that?’ And that was the whole point – to get them thinking about new things,” Gunst said.

And Gunst said that getting kids familiar with the foods will help change attitudes.

“It’s really important that kids feel the kitchen is a friendly place, that it’s not just a place where you take a frozen dinner out of the freezer and pop it into a microwave. It’s important for kids to have the sensory experience of touching food and chopping it, and watching how it changes when you’re cooking it,” Gunst said.

After spending an afternoon making fruit smoothies and kale chips, most kids were won over. They all seemed to enjoy the foods, but they weren’t ready to abandon their Doritos and Pringles just yet.

“They had kale chips once and Pringles most of their lives,” Gunst said. “They see Pringles on TV. You know most of where kids form their opinions about what’s going to taste good happens on TV commercials, and it’s really a kind of brainwashing.”

Educating Parents
Central School principal Vicky Stewart said the students are helping to educate parents.

“Even parents are saying,  ‘Kale? What’s kale?’ And their children can tell them,” Stewart said.

Third grader Cadence said she had never tried kale before, but she hopes to eat it at home.

“I am going to ask my parents if we can buy some kale and try some new experiences,” Cadence said.

Kale Chips

A bunch of dinosaur kale
Olive oil
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Hold the thick end of the kale stem with one hand and run the pinched fingers of your other hand along the stem, stripping the leaf away.
Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces or leave them in strips for larger chips.
Brush both sides of the each piece with a little bit of olive oil, or toss them with oil directly on your baking tray. With clean hands.
Sprinkle the kale with salt and toss again. Wash your oily hands when you are finished.

Place the pieces of kale in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
Bake for 2 to 14 minutes or until crisp.

Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Makes 2 cups.

Fruit Smoothie

1 banana
Apple slices
1/2 cup strawberries
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
3/4 cup orange juoce

Put the whole concoction in the blender and blend until smooth. If it’s too thick, add more orange juice. Too sour, add apple slices or pineapple. Experiment!

Recipes from (or inspired by) “The Whole Family Cookbook” by Michelle Stern

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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