The library went silent as a gaggle of Shadydale Elementary third-grade students readied to bite into what was, for most of them, their very first beet. In the quiet, more than forty pairs of little teeth tentatively picked into sliced beet sticks with audible crunches. Thanks to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), Shadydale students are veritable pros at trying new things.
Though the beet sticks may have been marginally less popular than the frozen kiwi pops the third-graders had tried previously, HISD’s registered dietitians have ways of making an unfamiliar vegetable taste great, even to the discerning palate of an eight-year-old.
Their visit on Tuesday included a lesson about beets and other produce, where they’re grown, the varieties they come in, and the benefits of a balanced diet for growing bodies. Nutrition Services’ Chef Brittany Jones provided a video demonstration entitled My Heart Beets for You Brownies, where she prepared, step-by-step, chocolatey Valentine’s Day beet brownies that the students then got to sample.
Shadydale is one of the 80 HISD elementary schools that benefit from the program that provides fresh and diverse produce for students to enjoy during the school day.
“This program has been amazing,” said Principal Teri Hampton. “Unfortunately, [they live] in a food desert. How many times are they going to eat beets? Everybody knows an apple, an orange, a banana, but some of the fruits and vegetables we’ve been receiving have opened their eyes.”
HISD dietitian Nathan Raska led the students in a session of stretches, explaining that the food they eat creates energy for their bodies. A group of second-graders were engaged and excited as they participated in the discussion with Raska and fellow dietitian Gabriella Villarreal, learning that all foods can be healthy foods with some recipe tweaks and the willingness to try new things.
Nine-year-old Taylor Thomas couldn’t taste the beets in the brownies at all. “You can make new recipes with the vegetables that would be very good for your body,” she said.
The accessibility of fresh and diverse produce is a cornerstone of the FFVP. “We are incorporating fresh produce as well as a recipe,” said Kathryn Laurance, the Nutrition Area Manager for the Food and Agriculture Literacy Program of HISD’s Nutrition Services. “I think that having the students be able to experience both is really important because they are learning more about produce that they may not have tried before.”
A handful of the third-graders may have thought that their beet sticks tasted like grass, but they did eat them, expanding their flavor horizons and learning that sweet treats can come from unexpected places, even the produce section.