Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: #TryItTuesday

March/April 2020 California Bountiful magazine

Learning tastes great in sixth-grade teacher's classroom

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Sixth-grade teacher Julie Cates, center, shares her enthusiasm for nutrition and agriculture with students Kaycee Perryman, left, and Anyssa Garcia. Photo: © 2020 Tomas Ovalle

Sixth-grade teacher Julie Cates of Visalia introduces her Linwood Elementary School students to dozens of new fruits and vegetables each year with a novel program she calls Try It Tuesday. Each week, the students sample California-grown foods, often preparing them in recipes. A former nutrition educator for University of California Cooperative Extension and a recipient of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom Outstanding Educator of the Year award, Cates enjoys sharing her passion for nutrition and agriculture, even using social media to spread tips with #TryItTuesday.

How do students react to Try It Tuesday? We try about 40 fruits and vegetables each school year, and every year the students discover new things they like. One day, we tried peaches. I had 12-year-olds who had never eaten peaches, even though canned peaches have been on their school lunch menu their whole lives. From then on, the kids couldn't eat enough peaches.

How do you conduct the tastings in class? We stand in a circle and everyone tries the item at the same time. There's positive peer pressure. Our motto is, "Don't yuck somebody's yum."

Can trying new fruits and vegetables actually change children's eating habits? The more often students are exposed to something new, the more likely they are to try it—and the more often they'll eat it and ask for it at home. Parents and former students have told me how glad they are that we've tried new foods in class.

Why do you include recipe preparation in your studies? When we eat something we've studied, it's like a field trip in a cup. If the fruit or vegetable is not something super familiar or popular, I attempt a recipe in class. We recently ate raw celery and then prepared bean and celery soup in a Crock-Pot. The students loved it and asked for the recipe. A few reported making it at home.

How do you manage to squeeze fruits and vegetables into your classroom curriculum? We include math, science, history and English language arts by having the students work in teams to research and report on the produce. The students use math skills to weigh, measure and do unit price comparisons, and they apply fractions to cut and measure for our recipes. They'll estimate how much their teams' pumpkins weigh with and without seeds, and learn how to average their results.

How do food and agriculture figure into your social studies program? We make pickles while studying Egypt, eggplant baba ganoush when studying Mesopotamia, and rice for ancient China, for example.

It's Try it Tuesday in Cates' classroom. Riley Wright, left, and Isaac Torres ladle soup they've helped make. Photo: © 2020 Tomas Ovalle

Where do you get your ideas for Try It Tuesday? I've learned from groups such as The Produce Moms, Ag in the Classroom and local farmers. I've introduced California-grown fruits and vegetables using a monthly challenge calendar created by The Produce Moms that features produce in season, recipes and fun facts.

Is there anything else you're ag-cited about at your school? I'm super ag-cited about our annual nutrition fair called "Lettuce Turnip the Beet," where students tour our Linwood School garden, taste fresh produce at our own farmers market and visit our sixth graders' nutrition booths. Last year, our garden club grew watermelon for the school-wide tasting, and this year we are working on a soybean plant and tasting project. Each year we add more school clubs, including our student council and our STEAM/robotics team. Many of our staff even wear fruit and veggie costumes. 

Do you bring other agricultural products into your classroom? We have Moo Mondays for trying dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. In the spring, the students create a moo-seum, where they learn about nutrition and the history and operation of dairies, including how dairies work to be sustainable by using renewable fuels. 

What's the root reason for introducing your students to new foods? As a former nutrition educator, I know that it's not nutrition until it's eaten. If we can get young people interested in food, they will also become interested in where their food comes from, and the practical and sustainable agricultural practices that are key to our survival as humans.

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