By BRITTANI HOWELL, The Herald-Times
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — At Grandview Elementary, last Thursday's lunch periods were all about squash.
Squash was served on the lunch line. Posters about squash decorated the hallways. Volunteers handed out freshly made delicata squash chips on the stage overlooking the cafeteria. Beside them stood a table laden with five different kinds of squash from Heartland Family Farms for children to see, touch and hold.
Playfully named "Oh My Gosh, It's Squash," the event was designed to help kids understand how food gets from the farm to the lunch line, and to introduce them to a new and nutritious dish.
"Squash is a regular menu item, but MCCSC Food Day is just to bring awareness to healthy eating overall," said Lisa Greathouse, manager of coordinated school health for the Monroe County Community School Corp., who helped pull the celebration together and was on site passing out delicata chips.
The event was part of the Indiana Department of Education's participation in National Food Day, which was observed this year on Oct. 24. The state distributed Food Day tool kits and activity guides to schools across the state, but MCCSC schools chose to celebrate with a vote on potential new menu items. At lunchtime, each school's cafeteria served two new butternut squash dishes, flavored with spices from one of MCCSC's vendors: a sweet maple-flavored dish and a savory option spiced up with garlic and rosemary. After trying each dish, students voted on their favorite, and each school will be incorporating the winning recipe into its lunch line rotation.
Grandview Elementary went a few steps farther by serving small samples of delicata squash chips and inviting farmer Teresa Birtles, of Heartland Family Farms, to educate students about how squash is grown in Indiana. Birtles brought in butternut, kabocha, delicata and spaghetti squashes, in addition to small pie pumpkins, for students to see.
"Most of them just wanted to hold the different kinds of squash. I've had a couple of, 'Are these jack- o'-lanterns?' and a lot of, 'Can I have this?'" she said, laughing, at the end of the lunch period for first- and fourth-grade students. "I think they're just fascinated to see the difference and the variety of squashes."
Just beyond her table hung a whiteboard on which the students cast their votes for their favorite serving of squash from the lunch line. For the preschool class, teacher Matt Wessel kept the tally.
"I need a vote," he said to the line of preschoolers in front of him. "Sweet or savory?"
Three students in a row cast their votes for the sweet option. Then AJ Jones, 6, piped up that he wanted to vote for the savory one. Wessel cheered as he made the first tally mark in the savory column.
"It's anybody's game, at this point," he said, grinning.
Among the fourth-grade voters, Madison Martin, 9, cast her vote for the maple-flavored sweet option.
"It kind of tasted like brown sugar, and I like brown sugar," she said. Meanwhile, fellow fourth-grader Whitney Williams expressed a preference for the savory option. Before Grandview's Food Day, she had never seen so many squashes in their raw forms. On first glance, she thought Birtles' butternut squash was a mushroom, and that the spaghetti squash was the same as a zucchini.
This recognition, said Greathouse, is one of the skills they were hoping kids would take away from the event.
"The whole thing with Food Day is trying to get kids empowered about where their food comes from. It's not just something that comes out of the microwave or a vending machine," she said.
"All the extra information they have at this age, I think, helps them make better food choices," said Birtles.
Students were not obligated to try any of the squash dishes, but Grandview principal Lisa Roberts said most students seemed to choose the squash over the other side options, which were a banana and apple juice. The demand for the squash was so great that, after the second lunch period, cafeteria staff had to run to another school to retrieve more squash for the next few classes.
"It's a really good program, and the kids were really excited about it," Roberts said.
She, by the way, voted for the savory squash.
Source: The (Bloomington) Herald Times, http://bit.ly/2eVeiyv
Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com
NOTE: OutlooK-12's sister publication, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, is also exploring nutrition later this month with an exclusive interview with Goya Foods. Plus, in December OutlooK-12 will be running a special nutrition issue just in time for the holidays.