Bok Choy Tasting Party for Harvest of the Month
April 02nd, 2018
If you asked the average third grader if she likes bok choy, chances are she’d ask you what bok choy is. If you asked the average third grader in room #31 at Empresa Elementary School if she likes bok choy, she’d tell you it’s delicious! She would then tell you about the time her class had a bok choy tasting party.
What makes this possible? Kim Arvidson’s class participates in Harvest of the Month, a program that introduces fruits and vegetables to students in class. Harvest of the Month delivers a different locally-sourced fruit or vegetable to Vista Unified School District classrooms each month for educational tasting parties. Teachers also receive lesson plans, videos, worksheets, and other resources to educate their students about local produce. So far this year, Mrs. Arvidson’s class has learned about and tasted red grapes, cherry tomatoes, kiwis, oranges, and avocados. The bok choy for this month’s lesson came from Good Taste Farm in Fallbrook.
Mrs. Arvidson incorporated a range of learning methods into the lesson. The tasting party started off with guesses as to what bok choy is, as the majority of the students had never even heard of it before. Then, students watch a brief video and write information about bok choy in their science notebooks.
The students learned that it takes two months for bok choy to go from seed to table and that bok choy is part of the cabbage family. Then, Mrs. Arvidson unveils two heads of fresh baby bok choy on a silver platter. She demonstrates bok choy’s other name, the spoon cabbage, due to its spoon-like shape. Each student keeps a running tally of Harvest of the Month produce descriptions, tasting notes, and final verdicts in a personal Chromebook.
Finally, it was time for the tasting party! While this is undoubtedly the best part of Harvest of the Month, the learning doesn’t stop here. Students used all five of their senses to experience this new produce. They watched as the bok choy changed color and texture while it was cooked. They smelled it mingling with olive oil, and salt and pepper (one student exclaims, “it smells delicious!”).
They listened to the pop and sizzle of the leaves in the skillet. They felt the light crunch and the chewiness of the wilted leaves (one student said, “I like how it’s crunchy, like chips”). And, of course, they tasted the peppery flavor.
Third Grade Food Critics
At the end of the tasting party, each student had to make two decisions. The first was to decide if he or she liked bok choy. The second was to decide which of the harvests each liked best so far. Placing Post-Its on a pictograph, students voted for their favorite produce.
Some deliberated for several minutes. “It was really hard to choose a favorite!” one student lamented after finally making her choice. The whole class helped Mrs. Arvidson count out loud. In a surprise to the adults, an overwhelming majority of students liked the bok choy best! Mrs. Arvidson’s students are providing strong evidence against the conventional belief that kids don’t like or won’t eat leafy greens. They’re also proving that trying new foods can be fun.
Freshly armed with new information, several students were eager to share their opinions about bok choy. Future food critic Amelia liked the salty and sweet taste, which the bok choy absorbed when it was sautéed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. “I think bok choy would go really well in soup,” she says, making the connection to bok choy’s other name. “I like getting the experience of tasting things in class that I’ve never had before.” Her favorite so far? The kiwi.
One student, Ava, was already familiar with bok choy. She enjoyed it many times before with her family. “My favorite thing to eat it in is sour soup,” she says. No wonder bok choy was her favorite Harvest of the Month produce! It was also Phinix’s favorite. “It smelled really good,” she said. All three think Harvest of the Month is fun because they get to try new foods.
Naturally, not everyone loved bok choy. This was Isaiah’s first time trying it, and his final verdict was, “it’s OK, I guess.” Not one to turn down an opportunity, he would give it another shot if it was prepared for dinner (he’s interested in trying it in a soup without pepper). Still, he likes Harvest of the Month because he likes getting different foods in class. His favorites so far have been the oranges and kiwis. And who could blame him? When they’re fresh and local they taste so much better.
Harvest of the Month for Everyone
Classes that don’t participate in Harvest of the Month can still try bok choy in WaveCrest Cafe. Bok choy is featured in the teriyaki chicken with rice lunch dish (served Wednesdays at Empresa Elementary). The dish is prepared fresh that day, reintroducing the food to students in a more typical dish.
Mrs. Arvidson’s students aren’t the only ones who love Harvest of the Month. Amy Vaughn, Empresa Elementary kitchen manager, does, too. “Different foods can be passed up in the salad bar, so it’s fantastic that kids get to try them in class,” she says. “Otherwise, they’re too focused on wanting to grab anything and sit. Students who taste a new food in a structured classroom setting are more likely to try it again at lunch time.”
Some students are more adventurous, and Mrs. Vaughn likes to reward that. “We have a prize box in the kitchen, and once I gave a prize to a student who chose the kale salad,” she said. “The next day, all of her friends came through with kale salads!” Even if the prize was the motivation, it still encourages kids to try something different. Who knows who might discover a new favorite food? Even if the Harvest of the Month is an old favorite, Mrs. Vaughn says, “What school district gives out avocados or kiwi? Amazing!”
By Lindsay Mineo