“V” is for vegetables.
That was the lesson for 73 kindergarten students at Memorial Elementary School in the Bethel Park School District on January 27.
Teachers Dana Polis and Kristen Mills spoke to students about the importance of vegetables in healthy eating. The kids received individual packets of baby carrots, red peppers, cherry tomatoes, and celery sticks for what they called “Ms. V’s Vegetable Tasting Event.”
After trying each one, they marked on a worksheet if they liked it with a smiling face or if they didn’t like it with a sad face, or if they were somewhere in the middle with an expressionless face. .
“It’s okay if you don’t like something, but try it to make sure you don’t,” Mills said.
As part of the half-day kindergarten curriculum, teachers use 26 fabric puppets called Letter People. Each represents a letter of the alphabet. The most recent assignment was Ms. V who wears a plant vest. Another example was Mr. T, for teeth.
“The Letter People really instills a magical love of learning in our children,” Polis said. “Our kindergarten children will experience a full day of school and lunch for the very first time next year. Our hope is that children can make positive connections between the excitement of Mrs. V’s vegetable tasting event and a lifetime of making healthy choices.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Kindergartner Juniper Zeffiro reacts after biting a piece of celery. Students at Memorial Elementary School were testing vegetables ranging from tomatoes to carrots as part of a vegetable learning experience.
Everything was pre-packaged and raw. Teachers have told their students that vegetables can also be cooked and that some like both, while others prefer one or the other. They also said children should keep trying new foods because their taste buds may change.
The vegetables were provided by Metz Culinary Management, Inc., the corporate food service provider for the Bethel Park School District.
The teachers contacted Joe Consolmagno, general manager of Metz, to see if they could get vegetables. Consolmagno said he would not only provide the vegetables, but also come to class and talk with the students.
“I love being in class with the kids,” Consolmagno said. “The more young vegetables we can get them to taste, the better. This can help them make good food choices for the rest of their lives.
The United States Department of Agriculture requires a ½ cup serving of fruit or a ½ cup serving of vegetables for school lunches, Consolmagno said.
The teachers explained that the vegetables were raw, but could also be cooked and used in other foods, such as tomatoes incorporated into pasta sauce, on pizza and in ketchup.
They all got a sticker for trying that said “I TRIED IT”
Mills’ students Madison Paden and Jacob Cunningham said they had fun.
“Carrots were my favorite,” Madison said. “I like them raw. Eating vegetables is important.
“Vegetables make you big and strong,” Jacob said.
Polis student George Zoeckler said he likes everything but red peppers. He prefers yellow peppers.
“I eat a lot of vegetables,” George said. “I love lettuce, cucumbers, peas and green beans. My mother wants me to eat 100 vegetables a day.
“Well, maybe not 100, but a lot,” he said.
The habits they adopt at this age will last a lifetime, said Madison Wurst, nutrition educator and registered dietitian for Metz Culinary Management.
“Kids will say they don’t like something before they’ve even tried it,” said Mills, who has taught Bethel Park kindergarten for 29 years. “That experience is something they can keep when they go home or go out to eat. It opens the door for them to try new things. It’s a new experience.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Artem Fink, 5, reacts after biting into a cherry tomato during a vegetable taste test.
Polis, who is 19 years old teaching in the K-6 district, the last two in kindergarten, said this age group loves to learn and she thinks if they see one of their classmates try a vegetable, it could be a way to encourage one another.
“We want them to have a lifetime of healthy choices,” Polis said. “They were all ready to try the vegetables.”
The lesson wasn’t just about food. Teachers integrated the study of where vegetables come from in a garden. They used their math skills to count how many students liked each vegetable. And their writing skills came into play when they formed a sentence about their favorite vegetable. Each decorated a vest to show their artistic side.
“We like to fit a lot of topics into a lesson,” Mills said. “It has to be something that makes sense to them. Vegetables are good for you. Why should you eat vegetables?
“Because they have vitamins,” said some of the children.
Yes, “V” is also for vitamins.