The seven year old smiling up at me smelled like onions. Spring onions from the local farmers' market to be precise. Popping another slice in her mouth, she sawed the child-proof "knife" back and forth across the cutting board and lopped off dog-eared chunk of onion, adding it to the pile.
"He's not doing it right?" reported the brown-haired girl to her right. I glanced at the energetic kindergartner, my son, pounding away at the chopper, slicing and dicing with glee. We opened the container and dumped out the red cabbage. Four of the five students sampled and two even asked for seconds of the raw cabbage.
The idea was not mine but a local-loving friend of mine whose daughter is also in the class. She spent spring break re-vamping the cooking center for our children's K/1 classroom to include more "real food." Seasonal produce. Whole foods. Less sugar, more variety. No Pillsbury pre-made biscuit.
Today, spring rolls with carrots, cilantro, cabbage, bean sprouts, spring onions, rice noodles, and roll wrappers were on the menu. The thirty minute center flew by as children cut, chopped, mixed, stirred and assembled their own, made to order, almost all organic and local spring roll. A total of ten kids made their way through my station. Nearly every one of them tasted something different. Something fresh, healthy, and whole. Sure, most kids left out the onions. The cilantro - after smelled and parsed - was ultimately abandoned in the bowl. And only a few ventured to add sprouts to their spring rolls. But they all learned something new about what we eat.
They inspected the dirt caked on a fresh onion.
They discovered that shredded carrots taste as good as Easter candy. Or very nearly.
They ate something with no preservatives. Minimal packaging. Little fat. Ingredients that our grandparents would readily identify. They ate real food.
And for that, I was grateful. Even as I spent the next thirty minutes cleaning up shredded carrots and chopped cabbage while the kids were back to vowels and addition.
*To read more about the movement to reintroduce our kids to fresh, local and healthy food, check out the Healthy Schools Campaign's Fresh Voices for Fresh Choices series.