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It’s something many of the students in Kirk Thomas’ fourth grade class hadn’t tasted.
But since Thursday when they cooked stir-fry in nutrition class, it’s something many will be asking their parents to make on a regular basis.
Ten-year-old Lucas Mortenson was the lucky student who, after raising his arm to the sky and erratically flailing his fingers around, got to taste an unadulterated piece of the bean curd. He aptly described it as tasting “like nothing.”
Students at Locust Grove Elementary School in Crestwood are learning to like veggies, whole grains and “unusual” foods such as tofu – thanks to a hands-on nutrition class based on the Food is Elementary curriculum.
Locust Grove adopted Food is Elementary in September.
The curriculum was created by Dr. Antonia Demas, founder of the Food Studies Institute, an organization “dedicated to changing the health destinies of children through proper nutrition and education,” according to its website.
Food is Elementary is used in more than 2,000 schools across the country, nutrition teacher Tiffani Borowick said.
The nutrition program at Locust Grove is funded in part by the school’s Parent-Teacher Association and is supported by local sponsors.
When the entire school made sushi, for example, Rikishi Japanese restaurant in Crestwood provided a large bag of rice and 650 pairs of chopsticks, Borowick said.
Borowick attended a two-day training session with Demas, where she learned to create lesson plans and administer the curriculum. Borowick teaches the Food is Elementary curriculum to six classes of 25 students daily.
Students keep food diaries to paste food labels and record nutrition information about the food they eat.
One student taped nutritional information from a granola bar into her diary, and drew a large letter A in a rainbow, representing the colors of the foods containing vitamin A.
“Just by the color, they can tell what vitamins they contain,” Borowick explained.
Fourth-grader Lindsey Mitchen, 10, said her favorite part of nutrition class is “learning how much fat there is in food. You never know!”
Students try whole grains such as corn, rice and millet in their raw state and compare the taste to breads containing those ingredients.
One highlight of the class is the chance to taste traditional dishes that are popular in other cultures.
Earlier this semester, students made an African stew and couscous after learning about Africa. They’ve also made tabouli, a middle eastern dish made of bulgur, parsley and tomatoes and onions.
Last week, students prepared a Chinese stir fry containing tofu after learning about China.
Borowick demonstrated the texture of tofu by squishing a tiny cube of it between her thumb and forefinger.
She explained to fourth graders that tofu does not taste like much on its own, but adopts the flavors of other foods.
“If we put it in chicken broth, it’ll taste like chicken broth,” she said.
After slicing ingredients with safety knives, some students had a chance to mix the ingredients into a large wok.
Once the ingredients heated up, parent volunteers doled a helping of rice and veggies to each student.
Gabby Morris, 9, said she liked the stir fry because “it has a mixture of different veggies and it’s really healthy.”
She enjoys learning about the country the food comes from, the food itself, and then “how healthy we’re going to be after we eat it.”
“I like trying new stuff, and seeing if I like it,” said 9-year-old Caleb Lohr.
“I’m going to have this tonight,” he added, pointing to the stir fry.
Ann Shackleton, parent of Kate, 6, and Caroline, 9, said her older daughter would only eat the basics, “bread, cheese, green beans or broccoli,” until nutrition class came along.
“She comes home and she’s so excited about trying new foods, and she will sample different spices,” Shackleton said. “Now, she’s wanting me to make tabouli, and she’s wanting me to try all this couscous.”
Lainie Ford volunteers in nutrition class, and said her sons, Kyle, 8, and Zack, 4, apply what they learn in class to their eating habits outside school.
Zack prefers to order salad instead of a hamburger at McDonald’s, Ford said.
Her sons also suggested the family remove all the fat from their New York strip on steak night, but Ford convinced them a little bit of marbling fat is okay.
“You can’t take it all away,” she said.
Ford noted that not all students will eat foreign foods.
When Ford was spooning out rice to a kindergarten class, one child placed his napkin over his plate as a “no stir-fry” signal, she said.
Most students are excited to try new foods, however, and the role of parents is essential to ensuring children make healthy decisions, Ford said.
“We’ve all stepped up to the plate and made sure that the kids get what they need.”
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