October 20, 2014 – this piece went live on the Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution website. Read it there...or here.
“Raise kids with fearless palates.” That is scribbled into a journal from before I was a mom.
The Dining Room Table as a Nexus for Change
Story by Camilla M. Mann
|One of my 'Eat a Rainbow' students making pumpkin-potato gnocchi|
At first, I just focused on my family. Then I expanded my goal to our small circle of friends. I put zucchini into chocolate cakes at birthday parties. I created a menu dedicated to the enigmatic and oft-hated eggplant. I pushed my friends’ palates and they still returned to my dining room table for more.
A good friend once asserted that he did not eat – and I quote – purple dirt circles. He meant beets. I accepted the challenge and cooked an entire dinner around those purple dirt circles, inviting him, his family, and a few other friends to my table. We ate roasted beet soup; I baked beetroot dinner rolls; we slathered beet-apple chutney on roasted leg of lamb; and ended with a spiced beet mousse for dessert.
Can you guess what happened next? He grudgingly admitted that he liked beets. He finally called them beets, too. And now, several years later, I have witnessed him spooning beets willingly onto his own salad on more than one occasion.
“More people would like vegetables if they ate them at your dining room table,” my husband Jake says. I realized that I could use the dining room table as a nexus for change: if you introduce kids to real foods and you invite them to cook it with you, they will eat it. And if you make the learning fun, they will love it.
October 24th is this year’s designated Food Day. Food Day and the FoodDay.org organization is all about inspiring both healthier diets for eaters and healthier food policies for our planet. It’s the culmination of a movement that aims to help people eat foods that are healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced. It’s also a time to focus on cutting back on processed, packaged foods every day of the year. It’s about awareness. It can be a celebration of accomplishments and a reassessment of what you can do to eat better.
This year Food Day falls in the middle of a six-week Friday afternoon elective class that I teach to a dozen 5th through 7th graders at a school on the Monterey Peninsula on California’s central coast. This session’s theme is ‘Eat a Rainbow.’ We have talked about the benefits of eating foods in every color of the rainbow. We’ve covered red, orange, yellow, and green so far. And we’ve made everything from pumpkin gnocchi to saffron-vanilla bean lemonade and from green beans with gremolata to roasted beets salad.
On Food Day, my students and I will be preparing two to three dishes that involve blue and purple foods. Think eggplant, blueberries, and purple yams!
My goal is not only to cook with my students, getting them to – perhaps – try foods that they haven’t eaten before, but to inspire them take our recipes home and cook for their own families. At the end of the session, they take home a book with all of the recipes we cooked during the six weeks. When I went to one of my student’s houses for dinner, he excitedly showed me the two recipe books from the two classes he’s taken with me. They had a prominent place in his mom’s kitchen along with her other cookbooks. I was surprised. She explained, “When he wants to share something from them, I know where they are.”
I was excited to be selected as a volunteer ambassador for Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Day. That extended the scope of my goal from simply raising my own kids to have fearless palates to helping push the palates of other people’s kids. While revamping the standard American diet is laudable, raising the next generation to make healthier food choices is a necessity – for their health and the health of our planet. It starts at the dining room table.