Skip to main content

Local Food Taste Tests

Have you ever passed by a free sample that you didn’t try? Perhaps if you’re trying to rush through the store, but generally, we humans really like to try new things when they’re free! Psychologists and marketers alike have always known this ‘Costco Principal’ – free food just makes people happy… and maybe a little bit more willing to spend money on new products.

Taste Test in AuroraWe like to apply this same principal to students, although we aren’t trying to make a quick buck off of them! The Illinois Farm to School program has been running taste tests at schools in our Farm to School pilot area of Kane County throughout the winter and spring. Our samples are healthy, fresh and tasty. Before handing them out, we tell the students where they were grown and ask them if they can guess what part of the plant the food is. It’s a process that takes just a few minutes, but the students are much more willing to try something new when it comes with a cool story.

What is the reasoning behind these fun, free sample lunch days? Well, studies show that children need lots of exposure to new foods before they are open to eating them more regularly. A lot of the time, we find that students look at the food (a green leafy veg, for example) very skeptically… eat it very skeptically… and then ask for another sample very skeptically! Not all kids enjoy new foods automatically, but being open to trying new things is a skill they need to develop.

These taste tests also help us gauge which locally available items would go over the best if they were to be added to a school menu. Radishes? Maybe not. Hydroponically grown pea sprouts and arugula? Yes, definitely!

Farm to school can be a lot of fun, but it has many challenges. Our taste tests have shown us that with time and repeated effort, many of these challenges are easily overcome. Kids across Kane County are loving their local food samples!

Kids Rave about Kale

“More kale, please!”kale

That’s what a group of first through third graders at Stagg Elementary shouted after trying kale for the first time. The students are participating in the Illinois Farm to School Network’s eight-week after-school program.

As you know, Seven Generations Ahead is deeply involved in the Illinois Farm to School Network, a statewide organization that works to bring local foods sourcing and agricultural education into the schools.

Since beginning my internship with SGA, I’ve been working with Lydia Mills, SGA’s Farm to School Network coordinator, on an after-school program at Stagg, a Chicago Public School on the city’s South Side. We’ve also worked hard with the first through third graders there to implement a gardening program at the school, using SGA’s “Sow and Grow” curriculum.

We’re happy to report that these students are even more thrilled about getting their hands dirty in the garden and trying new, and as they would describe it, “nutritious and delicious” foods.

Along with learning about gardening, every week students participate in Mindful Tastings that introduce them to particular to foods that they don’t typically eat or have access to. On this particular day, kale — the low-calorie leafy green known for its potent vitamin A, C, and K nutrients — was the food of choice.

This session ended with Lydia and me leaving the school smiling from ear to ear because we were so inspired by the children’s joy in discovering a wholesome, local, and new food.

Rachelle Reenders is a Dominican University MBA candidate and dietetic intern currently working at Seven Generations Ahead on the Farm to School Network.