Looking for inspiration for the "food appreciation" classes I teach at a private elementary school here in the District of Columbia, I need have searched no farther than my own front yard.
There I have 15 different varieties of lettuce at the peak of Spring growth. All different colors. All different shapes.
But I was plagued with some doubts. Would the kids, who range in age from 4 to 13, eat my salad?
Naturally, there had to be more to this lesson that just throwing a bunch of lettuce in a bowl. I incorporated a quiz (we've been rehearsing for several weeks) about what, exactly constitutes a spring vegetable that might also be a candidate for our salad.
In other words, what would you put in your salad?
Tomatoes were a popular choice. We had to fudge a little on tomatoes, since they really aren't in season until at least July.
Nope, I said. Not till summer.
Nope, not till summer.
Now that's more like it.
So what I brought to put in the salad were, in addition to four different kinds of lettuce in a variety of colors, and the aforementioned carrots, were:
The skill sets we'd be working on were not entirely new, but excellent to practice: peeling, grating, slicing.
Classes were divided into teams. Vegetable washing, peeling, grating and slicing commenced.
I'm happy to say that all of the kids in my classes are by now fairly comfortable with knives and graters, although the younger ones still need to be watched. Turns out they do an excellent job with a little guidance. Consistency of slicing still needs some work.
After all the vegetables were prepped, the kids took turns tossing them in a large bowl. Then on to something entirely new for them, a classic vinaigrette.
Nothing fancy. This is a lesson, after all, not a competition. Just a dollop of mustard, juice from half an orange, a squirt of white wine vinegar (But I don't drink wine! one of the boys lamented), a little salt, pepper, some sugar. Then for the really important part--incorporating the extra-virgin olive oil.
I explained what an emulsion is, how oil doesn't like to mix with water (or vinegar), how you have to start with just a tiny drizzle of olive oil and beat it really well until the liquid starts to shine. The mustard helps bind everything together. Once that's done, you can add lots more olive oil and continue beating really well until what you have in the bowl thickens and looks like salad dressing.
Everyone got a plastic spoon, tasted, and made suggestions for adjusting the seasonings.
Too much salt!
I don't like mustard!
Ewwww! What's goat cheese?
I was so pleased at how the kids then proceeded to gobble up their salad (only one 5-yeaer-old boy declined) that I decided to try this on my daughter at home. Surely she would gobble up her salad as well, right?
Well, she leaped at the chance to grate carrots and cut radishes. She buzzed right through the Vidalia onion. She was a little frustrated by the red cabbage (This is too hard for me...). Then, as I started to make the dressing, she began to complain.
"I don't like tomatoes!" she whined. "I don't like onion! I don't like mustard! I want pasta!"
It was the usual dinnertime struggle. And no amount of me saying how much the kids at school liked the very same salad made an ounce of difference. We were back to the same old argument.
"No dessert if you don't eat salad!"
We sound just like our own parents...
So I admire Charlotte at the Great Big Vegetable Challenge blog even more for tackling this kids vs. vegetables thing. What I'm thinking, though, is that it may not be so much the vegetables as the parent-child dynamic.
The kids at school eat their vegetables with hardly any complaints. There, I'm just the teacher. But as soon as it comes to our own daughter, the fighting starts. At home I'm The Dad, The Foil, The Adversary...
I'm starting to think it's more about a 7-year-old trying to establish her own territory than it is about food. Vegetables are not so much a food substance to be negotiated over as a trigger for the inevitable, generational power struggle.
What do you think?