Friday, May 27, 2011

One more step away from real food

I think it was last year when I watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and was amazed at the kids who seemed to have no idea that a french fry started out as a potato.  I decided that these children were products of big cities where they had never seen cows in a pasture or vegetable gardens growing in neighbor's backyards.  Children where I live have much more exposure to "agriculture," or so I told myself.

I live in a town that is approximately 41,000, but drive 10 minutes in any given direction and you will end up sitting in the middle of a pasture.  There is considerably more livestock in this area than crops, but with the University of Missouri farms and Lincoln University farm, I figured that every local school child had been to a farm, at least as part of a school field trip.

I first began to doubt that this was enough when my friend told me a story about serving chicken in the school cafeteria.  She has worked in the cafeteria at my children's school for a year and the school staff, working with the county health department and parents are instituting changes for healthier school lunches and a more physically well-rounded curriculum (like implementing a walking program for students who get to school early).  One of the changes was to begin serving bone-in chicken instead of processed chicken patties or nuggets-awesome change!  My friend told me that they threw much of it away because the kids wouldn't eat it.  They served it several times over the course of 2-3 months and each time the kids threw it away.  It turns out that the kids didn't know what it was.  They were told that it was chicken, but it wasn't like any chicken they had ever eaten.  It had bones in it-that was gross.  It seems that in the wake of the boneless, skinless chicken breast and Chicken McNugget, children don't know what real chicken looks like.

To solve this problem, people (don't know if they were the lunch monitors, or who) taught the kids how to eat the chicken, by showing them how to use their fork to pull the meat off.  Or, using fewer manners, to pick it up and gnaw on it.  Although, it wasn't the most popular meal, eventually the kids were eating the chicken instead of throwing it away.

Now, I think I do a pretty good job in this area, but was stunned to find out that my daycare kids also did not know how to eat a chicken leg.  I served glazed chicken legs a couple days ago and the kids didn't start off eating them.  Of course I was puzzled and started asking them questions about it.  They told me that they didn't know how to eat the meat.  And then the light bulb went off!  How many times do I pull the meat off the leg so it cools faster?  Duh, all the time.  Even though I had served them chicken legs once a month for as long as I can remember, I almost always pulled the meat off for them.  Well no more!

We had a lovely training session in which we all picked up our chicken legs and gnawed on them.  We talked about how it was a leg from a chicken and how it had bones, just like our legs have bones.  After nap that day, we went to the computer and looked at pictures of chickens and pointed out how the leg was fatter at the top and skinnier at the bottom (and how we were glad that they cut off the foot, LOL).

In our world of convenience and grocery store shopping, it is so easy to overlook that connection our kids need to make between the food they eat and where it comes from.  I pride myself on doing a good job in that area by gardening and composting and dragging my kids off to the farm to pick up eggs, but obviously I missed the mark in the meat department.  You can bet that the next time we're at Grandpa's farm, we'll be checking out the cattle and talking about hamburger!

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