Turning Picky Eaters into Veggie Lovers

I’ve got two missions. Day-to-day, I just want to see kids eat well with a smile on their face. But my larger mission is to raise a generation of healthy eaters.

In our school district in Santa Cruz, and in many other California school districts, they have a harvest of the month. It’s whatever’s seasonal, whatever’s local. In March, our harvest of the month feature is kale.

I had one student who every day said, “I don’t want to take a fruit. I don’t want to take a vegetable.” One day, our chef made these fresh kale chips, so I told the kid, “I have a deal for you. If you eat one kale chip, you don’t have to take a cup of fruit today. Just eat one, and we’re good.” He said, “OK, I’ll take that deal.”

He ate the kale chip. Afterwards, he lit up and did this dance. He said to me, ”I didn’t know I could be a kale chip kind of guy. Can I have some more?” I said, “Of course.” But the part I loved the most? A while later, his mom came up to one of our lunch staff and said, “Can I have the recipe for those kale chips?” 

Things that might feel small to us as adults can be a massive part of a kid’s childhood. One day, we decided to make kale chips. It seems like an insignificant decision. But now here’s this student, who didn’t even want a vegetable on his tray, much less to eat. And now he wants kale chips at home. That’s when you start thinking, “Oh, wait: We’re changing the way kids are eating.”

The school lunch that we’re serving now isn’t the school lunch that maybe you grew up with. We’re trying to do incredible, innovative things. I had a mom come up to me and say, “I’ve been feeling guilty because my kid wanted to eat school lunch, and I kept thinking, the meals probably aren’t very good. But now I see you’re serving all these great foods.” That’s why it’s so important to incorporate parents into the process, so that they see how school food is changing.

I’m just one person in one school district. But I’m part of a larger movement in California, and we’re making changes together. People are really thinking about how we teach kids to eat well in schools, so they want to eat that way for the rest of their lives. 

This job is always worth it, because you know that you’re showing up, giving kids great food and laying this very strong foundation to raise healthy eaters for life.

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