For 13 years, I taught in the “hard-to-staff” neighborhoods of the Bronx. My students were hungry, traumatized, and VERY under-exposed to language and language-building experiences. How do you have a conversation about adjectives with students whose only real exposure to them is “bad” and “good,” and maybe “hot” and “cold”? But even if your kids are well-grounded in fancy vocabulary, food offers a rich language-building experience.
Many teachers balk at offering lessons with food, and there are some good reasons:
- Allergies. This is the most serious. Make SURE all your parents have filled out their medical cards with any food allergies. It’s a good idea to send home a note before beginning food lessons to let parents know that it’s happening and give them a chance to bring up any potential issues.
- Cost. This is a big one for a lot of teachers. Many of us are already buying pencils, paper, and crayons out of pocket – bringing in food is above and beyond. If you have responsive parents, you can try asking for volunteers to provide supplies on a rotating basis, or see if your school or PTA has any funds laying around that they could provide. Even if you do it out of pocket, though, it can be done on a budget – think portion control.
You’d be surprised how excited kids get over one single pretzel. If it’s a learning exercise rather than a meal, they don’t need a huge portion. And if your kids come to school without breakfast, a morning snack can prevent some crashes later.
- Management. Just kidding – this is one of the easiest things about food lessons! Food lessons do require a little extra organization beforehand, and sometimes pre-cutting veggies or whatnot, but kids get so excited about the snack, I’ve never had any problems keeping them in line in the lesson leading up to the eating. NO ONE wants to be in timeout when it’s snack time.
There are some great reasons to incorporate food into your lessons!
- Unless you teach in a very affluent neighborhood (and even if you do, you’d be surprised), chances are some of your kids show up hungry every day. Maybe they don’t have enough at home, or maybe everyone was just in too much of a rush to eat properly, but offering snack during school can take the edge off and actually help their concentration.
- It’s a GREAT motivator. Especially if you can incorporate it with some regularity, your kids will always look forward to food day.
- It’s a great language builder. Crunchy, juicy, smooth, creamy, salty, tart – food gives your students concrete experiences with a fat list of adjectives.
- Food projects build social skills. Manners, sharing, following directions, waiting until it’s time, talking over a “meal.”
- Health. The obesity epidemic is real. And a lot of kids are under-exposed to healthy foods. Research says that the way we learn to like foods is by trying them, over and over again. You can be a hero in the war against obesity by introducing a range of healthy foods for kids to snack on. Again, doesn’t have to break your budget or require bags of food. A single baby carrot per student. One cucumber can easily be cut into 16 sticks or even more disks. Etc. Quality, not quantity.
5 Curriculum-Integrated Ways to Start:
Offer contrasting foods, like pretzels and bananas, do a 5 senses exploration, and build a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting their attributes. Some more good pairings:
- apples and cheese,
- graham crackers or rice cakes with peanut butter/jam/creamcheese/berries,
- crackers and grapes,
- carrots and raisins,
- cucumbers and yogurt, etc.
You can go ahead and supply the vocabulary they need at the beginning if they don’t have a good base already – crunchy, mushy, creamy, tart, sour, sweet, salty, bitter, juicy, etc. The more repetition, the more of the language they’ll absorb. Do it every day for a week, or once a week on a special day, however it works for you. They’ll get into a routine with it, and build a lot of language along the way.
Keep a running bar graph of the foods you’ve eaten based on how many students liked it or didn’t like it.
Offer one food with contrasting sauces, like lettuce plain, with Italian dressing, and with ranch. Toast with 3 different toppings. Carrot sticks with hummus, tzatziki, and ranch dressing. Look, touch, and smell before tasting, make predictions, and then talk about the outcome – did it taste the way they expected? Did it have the texture they expected? Did the dressing change the texture as well as the taste? Have them fill in a graphic organizer like you would with a read-aloud recording their predictions and the actual outcomes.
Once your students have a store of shared food experiences, you can have guess-the-food games. Blindfold a student and show the rest of the class an item of food that they have previously tasted. Students have to describe the food to the blindfolded student without saying its name – how it feels, looks, smells, tastes; adjectives only. If he/she guesses correctly, they get to eat it. Or the reverse – have the class close their eyes, or hide in the hallway for a moment while you give one student a food that they have to describe to the class using their five senses, and the class guesses.
If you’re reading any stories that involve food, branch out and let them taste the story. Jack and the Beanstalk? Beans are super cheap and come in a variety of sizes and flavors. They can be eaten straight from the can without cooking, although you should rinse them first. Stone soup can be done with a hot plate or a slow cooker, depending on how much time you have. (I recommend pre-cutting the veggies the night before to save time – the smaller the pieces, the faster it cooks.) Green eggs and ham – would they eat it