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Increasing Smiles Through Vegetables

Jan. 22, 2014

By Tae-Young Nam, FoodCorps service member in New Mexico

I can explain why I serve with FoodCorps like this: it’s a combination of fun, yummy food, mounds of dirt and self-interest.

Tae-Young NamMy name is Tae-young Nam and I am currently serving as a FoodCorps service member with La Semilla Food Center in partnership with two elementary schools within Las Cruces, New Mexico and the El Paso del Norte Region. Growing up in a middle-class Madison, WI neighborhood, I was lucky to have parents who brought home a plethora of fruits and colorful vegetables. However in the classroom, I clearly recall learning about how the body worked, but I hardly remember any lessons on how to fill our bodies with healthy food.

FoodCorps works to change that by deploying leaders across the nation to introduce healthier options to school cafeterias, create and execute garden and nutrition based lessons, and have a blast harvesting carrots and then cooking them with kids, possibly after making them perform rounds of jumping jacks, push-ups and yoga. I work with 2nd-5th grade classrooms to incorporate gardening, cooking and nutrition into their lesson plans during the mornings, and run after-school Gardening and Cooking Clubs in two different elementary schools. Furthermore, I try to tailor the recipes to what our school gardens are growing so that we can harvest and cook it in one lesson.

Through teaching these lessons, I have found that when kids grow their own food a deep connection is formed with those fruits and veggies. In fact, it can be reminiscent of welcoming a new family member. I believe this connection not only has the power to bring back the respect our 21st century societies should have towards our food, but the love we sow in its growth and care. To that end, children usually do not take for granted the veggies they have grown themselves.

As a FoodCorps service member, I have the incredible opportunity to watch kids shoveling zucchini into their mouths from the ratatouille they’ve made for themselves, actually needing to tell them, ‟slow down, we won’t let anyone take your food.” On another day I might witness a 2nd grader pick a cherry tomato off the vine and pop it into his mouth right after claiming he didn’t like tomatoes and then several bites later exclaim, ‟I like tomatoes... A LOT!”

Twice a semester, I invite the family of the Garden and Cooking Club members to cook with their children and eat a three course meal chock full of vitamins and yumminess. During the ‟Family Cooking Nights,” parents can be seen working out side by side with their students as they would participate in Garden Yoga, Garden Bootcamp and a song called “Boom Chicka Boom” that I often love to make kids undergo before working in the garden. After working up an appetite, parents are invited to be impressed by the mad cooking skills each of their kids exhibit. I loved watching one 4th grader explain to his grandma: ‟This is called massaging the kale. That way it gets softer for us to chew on.”

Finally, I serve with the conviction that healthier kids make happier kids. I serve with the confidence that working to increase the number of smiles in the world will better it... And in that service, I have found my own biggest smile.

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