Building a culture of health, one smoothie at a time
When your students are not eating lunch, what do you do? This was something that had stumped me for my first year of service as a FoodCorps Americorps Service Member at Gardner Pilot Academy last year (2018-2019). Our middle school students were not eating, and our principal, Ms. Erica Herman, was committed to changing that this year. One student, Gabi, mentioned that she would eat if smoothies were served on the lunch line, and so we decided to do what we could to meet her request.
In the first week of October 2019, I began a smoothie-making lunch bunch for any interested 8th graders. We started off our first few meetings making classic Rainbow Smoothies, a favorite FoodCorps recipe. These smoothies include ingredients from every color of the rainbow, highlighting the phytonutrients that are available in different colored fruits and veggies:
- RED: Strawberries and raspberries provide nutrients that promote skin and heart health.
- ORANGE: Oranges for some tart flavor and Vitamin C for our immune systems. Carrots with beta carotene and Vitamin A to promote healthy vision.
- YELLOW: Bananas provide potassium and nutrients that promote healthy blood.
- GREEN: Kale (or any other green you have in your garden!) with iron and antioxidants to help our teeth, bones, and all over health!
- BLUE AND PURPLE: Blueberries and Blackberries with antioxidants for your brain!
At first, there was some major backlash from the students at the thought of eating vegetables in their smoothies. “Only. One. Little. Leaf. Ms. Chloe,” said one particularly kale-adverse student trying to make a compromise with me. But, in order to make our smoothies we had to include vegetables; it was a rule I made early on. And, each week, we added just a little bit more of our fresh garden greens, or an extra vegetable, or we switched up the recipe to include a little less sweet fruit. Soon, students began requesting certain recipes, and they became the head chefs. They asked to make açaí bowls, or green smoothies, or Dominican drinks like their families make. More and more students got involved, and even some lunch monitors came to help and taste our fun and healthy creations. Our roster grew from six 8th grade girls to include two whole tables of students, three or four lunch monitors, and sometimes even the Vice Principal would pop in, curiously asking, “What do we have today?!”
Over time, we’ve built a Wellness Wednesday community. We were founded upon an implicit set of guidelines and are united by one common goal.
Our Community Guidelines:
- We try everything AT LEAST twice.
- Do not Yuck My Yum (No negative words about our food! Especially if you haven’t tasted it!)
- Be Open, Be Honest.
- Respect yourself and others.
Morgan McGhee, FoodCorps’ Director of School Nutrition Leadership, has said that, “Students are incredibly brave … Kids will try new things when they’re introduced to them, consistently and with a positive attitude, when there are opportunities for them to do so.” In my experience as a service member, this statement is completely true. The above guidelines have been key in building the foundation of our little community so that students feel safe to explore and free to share their honest thoughts and opinions. We talk about food, family, culture, and the world outside the school walls while we sip on healthy and energizing smoothies. Students now have the confidence to lead the group in making recipes from their cultures and backgrounds. Others grab handfuls of kale and invent their own recipes!
Anyone who steps into our side of the cafeteria on Wednesdays will be asked to taste a very green smoothie; and soon recognize that Gardner Pilot Academy’s Wellness Wednesday has become something special, fun, and welcoming.
This post was written by Chloe Miller, a FoodCorps AmeriCorps Service Member at the Gardner Pilot Academy.