The letter for the week was “s,” which stands for sausage, seltzer water, Swiss cheese, sweet potato, snap peas and sourdough bread. It also stands for student participation, which has been brimming on Thursday afternoons in Stephanie Warlik’s class at Rotterdam Academy I.
Each week with the help of teacher assistants and related service providers, Warlik introduces her class to a new group of foods as a part of her program, “Eating Our Way Through the Alphabet,” which was funded this school year by a mini-grant. Warlik explains that many of her students enter her class with a very limited food repertoire, stuck in a cycle of eating only a handful of foods, many of them unhealthy. Through her program, she is able to watch their tastes change and evolve throughout the year.
Beyond expanding their tastes, students are also learning about the food groups, healthy eating and table manners. Warlik said the program has its most success in its no-pressure approach. Students taste foods and rate them with a vote or “yum” or “yuck,” which is recorded on a chart. Warlik and the other class instructors remind the students that it's fine to not like something, but not to not make up their minds before they try it.
Warlik started the program four years ago with less structure. At first she grouped foods by color and texture to a less-than-enthusiastic audience with crying and gagging. She said she’s discovered that sometimes her students need a second and third tasting before they decide to accept a new food.
Encouraging an open mind when tasting food
could apply to many other life experiences.
“I try to give them foods that they will most likely encounter again … It’s a healthier way of being in the world. It’s more realistic and independent way of being in the world … I think it’s beneficial for any kid,” Warlik said.
This year was the first year of food journals where students record the outcome of the tasting sessions. Warlik said kids from other classrooms are invited to participate in the program when her students are absent. She says she was encouraged to write a mini- grant to cover the expenses by Donna Lamkin, who works in the Special Education Division and oversees the program.
Warlik said the grant has really come in handy for the weekly grocery trips that will culminate in the class making a balanced grocery list and taking a field trip to the grocery store for an end-of-year party.
The tasting lessons go beyond the classroom. “I’ve had parents write to me and say 'my child would never try anything and now when I put stuff on the dinner table, at least they’re open to trying it,'” she said.
At the end of the “s” foods, there were only two yuck votes out of the six foods introduced. Warlik congratulated a student who rated all six foods with “yum.”
“Your mom told me that you’re the pickiest kid she ever met and you like everything we’ve ever tried!"
Two BOCES mini-grant workshops
are scheduled for March 1 and March 23, with the deadline to submit a grant on
May 2. For more information on the mini-grant program, click