I know almost all of the fourth grade class knew the answer; they just weren’t feeling engaged.
“Remember we talked about this last week?” I tried again.
This is the challenge of being an elementary school educator. Getting the information across while keeping the student’s attention. But I’m a nutrition educator and I have one major tool on my side.
“Perhaps a little cooking can refresh your memories?”
“YESSSSS!” was the glorious response I received. I went from the lady at the front of the class asking annoying questions about weird green foods to the five foot cooking hero. Sometimes you have to take a lecture break and let the fun stuff do the teaching.
“Alright, then,” I say. “Let’s wash up.”
I was worried about this recipe. Cabbage soup? I thought to myself. I don’t even know many adults who like cabbage soup. We had a hard enough time trying to convince this particular fourth grade class to try fruit salad with yogurt. Now try to get them to eat the cruciferous vegetable in a broth with just tomatoes, onions, and basic spices? Alright, here it goes.
“This table will be in charge of cutting onions. Next group will be in charge of slicing up the cabbage.” I continue to hand out jobs and review knife safety and let the class get started.
“But Miss Cristina, what’s my job?”
I look up at nine year old Rogelio as I was crouching on the floor plugging in the skillet. I had almost forgotten the most important job!
“I think it’s your turn to be the cooking helper!” I was interested in how this was going to go. This is only my second time working with him but my co-educator Leah, and his real teacher have both warned me of his strong disdain for any and all vegetables.
“Okay,” he says, neither enthusiastically nor disappointingly. Something told me he was a bit curious.
There we stood, Rogelio and I, stirring the single skillet at the front of the class as all the other students brought up their cut-up vegetables.
“Am I holding this right?” he would ask.
“Yes, you’re doing great!”I continued to encourage him.
We stirred and talked about his mom’s soup and how he never eats it when she makes it. I asked if he has ever helped her make it. He said he has never wanted to because cooking is too hard. I asked if he still felt that way. He laughed and told me no.
We brought the soup to a simmer (a new word we learned as a class) and waited as the aromas filled the classroom. I mentally prepared myself for what was about to happen. I was ready for the soup to be done and for all the eight and nine year olds to tell me they’re not hungry and would rather not try my dumb soup.
I took a breath. “Okay, soup’s ready!”
To my amazement, they immediately rushed up to make a line.
“I want mine with plain yogurt!” I heard from somewhere in the crowd. “Well I want mine with TWO spoonfuls of plain yogurt.” I heard from another.
I was astounded. I served all 30 kids a ladle full of hearty cabbage soup complete with sauteed onions, no-salt-added canned tomatoes, organic vegetable broth, salt, pepper, and oregano. It doesn’t sound like much but they put it together themselves following a provided recipe.
They know the rules. They’re not allowed to eat until everyone is served. I was going to try this one more time. “Which food group in cabbage in?”
“The vegetable group!” they roared.
I thought I would push this a little further. “And the plain yogurt?”
“The dairy group!” they answered to my delight.
“And which nutrients does cabbage have?”
A hand shot up in the air. “Vitamin C?”
“And what is Vitamin C good for?”
Almost as if they had practiced before I arrived, “Healing cuts and bruises!” It’s times like this that make me love my job.
“Okay class,” I thought I wouldn’t push my luck today. “Let’s say the magic words together. Bon apetite, we all may eat.”
At this point, I was okay if they didn’t like it. But I was eager for their response. First I heard it once, and then twice.
“Mmmmm, this soup is bomb!”
I knew I would have a smile for the rest of the day. The final bell of the day rang and all the kids rushed to grab their backpacks and homework. Leah and I started to clean up content that the class had liked the soup. Just as turned around to wind up the last extension cord, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Ms. Cristina, is there enough for seconds?”
It was Rogelio. I-don’t-a-single-vegetable-Rogelio was asking for seconds of cabbage soup!
“Yes Rogelio, there is enough for seconds.” Leah and I smiled at each other.
This is only a single account of the growing moments I’ve had as a nutrition educator at Concord Elementary in South Park for the Eat Better Feel Better program. As nutrition educators, we have the opportunity to bring in fresh fruits and vegetables to classrooms in Seattle elementary schools providing them with nutrition education, cooking skills, and provide sampling of foods students may not have been exposed to previously. We learn, we cook, we eat, and we have a great time together.
Stay tuned for more stories from inside the classroom here on the Apple Corps blog. Until next time, and remember to never underestimate the power of cabbage soup.