Which one is your favorite? That’s what we’ve been asking Pleasant Valley elementary students taking our Wellness in the Schools Greens Labs this week–the balsamic vinaigrette, the honey mustard vinaigrette, or the sweet yogurt dip? Enthusiastic sticky hands shoot into the air. Everyone loves voting for their favorite.
If you are like me, you learned at a much older age how to make vinaigrette. My family, like so many others, always bought their salad dressings and we had an endless number of unused bottles filling up our refrigerator door. That’s not the case for children in Novato Unified School District, participating in our WITS West pilot. As early as kindergarten, they are learning just how easy it is to shake up some balsamic vinaigrette to dunk their local spinach from Star Route Farms into–the same spinach currently being served on their school salad bar.
Immediately after our first 100 children went through the labs on Monday, the site School Food Manager said they were stopping by to see if the salad dressings were on the salad bar. What’s exciting is that when we teach the concepts of how to make a dressing, let the children taste them on fresh romaine lettuce, and then put them on their salad bar, they begin engaging with eating salad at school and home in a whole new way. The labs open a window into healthy eating that’s fun, practical, and hands-on.
What I love most is that between labs, which currently happen during two seasons of the year, students go home and share their new healthy learnings with their parents, they cook the recipes they’ve learned, and they remain enthusiastic about cooking. When I ask students if they made the tomato sauce we learned in September, I’m always amazed at how many hands shoot up! Our pilot in Novato started in one elementary school almost two years ago, Lu Sutton Elementary, and has grown to four elementary schools and one middle school. We are excited to continuing expanding the program next year focused on making salad bar offerings even more robust and continuing to expand into elementary schools with WITS Labs.
If you want to cook more with your child, grandchild, or niece/nephew but are not sure how to really engage them in a way that will make eating healthy foods exciting, here are my five tips on how to help your children get excited to try healthy foods:
1) Encourage them to use all five senses—see, touch, taste, smell, and listen to your food. I love to have kids do taste comparisons: which is sweeter, which is tangy, which is meaty, which is your favorite?
2) Make it a game of tasting to see which flavors are in a dish—can you taste anything sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami (meaty)?
3) Use juicy chef words to describe what you’re experiencing—tangy, crunchy, gooey, fragrant, and my favorites are hybrid words they can make up: “Wow, that pesto is herbalicious!”
4) Let them help with the prep—from shaking salad dressing in a mason jar to tearing herbs with their hands and using a safe plastic lettuce knife to help cut that kale into ribbons!
5) Put the kids in charge of the “build a bar”—whether it’s build a rainbow salad or burrito, ask the kids to find what’s already in the pantry for each family member to choose their ingredients for the main dish—just make it a rule that at least 2 colors of the rainbow are present in those vegetable options!
More about Wellness in the Schools
Wellness in the Schools (WITS) is a national non-profit that inspires healthy eating and fitness for kids in public schools. Through public-private partnerships, we work with schools to provide healthy, scratch-cooked meals, active recess periods, and nutrition and fitness education. Trained culinary graduates partner with cafeteria staff to feed kids real food, and fitness coaches encourage schools to let kids play. Our partnership approach drives systemic, long-term change, shifting the entire culture of schools and ultimately fighting the childhood obesity epidemic. In partnership with local departments of education, our programs serve more than 50,000 children in over 100 schools nationwide.
WITS started in 2005, in a classroom at the Ella Baker School (NYC PS 225). In the past 10 years, we have cooked more than 11 million school meals alongside school food teams and led more than 54,000 hours of play. We are continuing to expand our national footprint, supporting schools across the country in their efforts to become healthier places for students to learn and grow.
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- ½ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a small bow, whisk together vinegar and mustard.
- Add the oil a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, until thickened and emulsified.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.