MMH dietician Melissa Bischoff was table  hopping, encouraging third-to-fifth graders to try the pasta accented with basil, lemon and cheese. Staff photo by Debbie Blank
MMH dietician Melissa Bischoff was table hopping, encouraging third-to-fifth graders to try the pasta accented with basil, lemon and cheese. Staff photo by Debbie Blank
For seven years, students at Batesville primary and intermediate schools have been enticed to try under-the-radar vegetables, one year at a time.

Sweet potatoes kicked off the Indiana Department of Education program, followed by turnips, kale, delicata squash, brussels sprouts, radishes and — two flavors for 2019! — herbs and yogurt.

Margaret Mary Health community dietitian Kathy Cooley, RD, CDE, reports, “If you talk to some of the kids in the older grades, they can name off many of them for you. The idea of celebrating one food and really having fun with it truly sticks.”

When Food Day happened at BIS Oct. 29, kids in high spirits were everywhere midday. Some were eating pesto pasta (please see recipes in box) in the cafeteria, while others were floating between 10 stations. They were sniffing herbs, lifting hay bales, tasting yogurt, getting blood pressures checked, taking Food Gnome photos, assessing how much sugar is in drinks and learning about how important hand washing is in the lobby. Some were creating cards for military service members in the art room. Others were outside playing a silly farmers vs. robbers game and flag football.

Kids were watching a short Food Day video created ahead of time by MMH marketing specialist Adam Fischmer. It can be viewed at He also was shooting the Food Day action for a later video.

Because principal Dana Cassidy had applied to be a Fuel Up to Play 60 School of the Week, some activities were part of the BIS Wellness Bazaar. Play 60 is a program sponsored by the American Dairy Association and Indianapolis Colts.

BPS students and staff marked Food Day Oct. 30 with the same recipe and centerpieces.

These special days were organized by the MMH Nutrition Services Department, BIS and BPS school administrators and cafeteria managers and school garden teachers.

The dietitian tells how the program rolls out each year: “It’s the responsibility of the Indiana Department of Education Farm to School team to pick the food of the year and develop a tool kit to help schools all over the state celebrate Food Day.” Its purpose “is to celebrate nourishing, locally-produced foods. By focusing on a single food, we can really have fun, but still teach some important lessons: eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, locally-grown food can taste better and helps support our local farmers, and the importance of being willing to try new foods.”

Any other schools interested in participating in Food Day 2020 should contact Cooley at 812-933-5267.

There are qualifications for the chosen vegetable. Besides being healthy, it must be able to be grown in a school garden so students can see progress from seed (or seedling) to harvest, and cafeteria managers must be able to source it from local farms. Cooley observes, “It is always a fall crop because that is what is available in October. And we try to pick something that may be a little unusual, so it gives the students a chance to try something new.”

Once herbs were chosen as the food of the year, a variety were planted in all Batesville public school gardens, plus the one at St. Louis School.

She explains yogurt also is in the spotlight because the dairy council supported the program this year.

“Each year we have a tasting day in September. We pick two recipes featuring the food of the year. The kids taste a sample and vote which one they would like served for Food Day.” Unbelievably, the dietitians were able to come up with a recipe that featured both foods, a yogurt-based ranch dressing with fresh herbs. So the sampling contest was ranch dressing vs. basil pesto pasta.

“The pesto pasta won!”

She notes, “We made a nut-free pesto because of nut allergies in the schools and because pine nuts are so pricey. We think this tasted just as good!”

Reflecting back on the Food Days, Cooley sums up, “We have had a lot of fun.”

“Each year it seems like there are great lessons we learn. This year we learned that you need a lot of fresh basil to make pesto, and that fresh basil is pretty expensive. We purchased it from Michaela Farm for the tasting days.” The schools received a discount, but still it was more than cafeteria managers were accustomed to spending. “We know that it is very easy to grow in the school gardens and the cafeteria managers know that they can make it and freeze it for later use. So hopefully we can get the gardens to grow enough basil for the cafeteria to make enough pesto to use a couple times throughout the year.”

Cooley continues, “The second fun thing that I learned is how to plant herbs from cuttings, like farmer Daniel (Wilds, the Michael Farm manager) talks about in the video. We decided to try that technique for the centerpieces. Mary Jo Beck has a beautiful herb garden and she kept a few of her herbs alive for us to cut and use for decoration. Originally we were just going to put them in vases on the tables, but after seeing the video, we were inspired to try to plant the cuttings and see if we could get them to grow. We planted sage, thyme, flat leaf parsley and basil. So far they are all still alive.

“We have spread them around with the idea if people can keep them watered until Thanksgiving, they will have fresh herbs to include in their holiday meal.”

What was the consensus about these two foods of the year? She answers, “Feedback has been the same every year: About 30% loved it, 30% were willing to try (yogurt and herbs) and ate part of their servings and 30% said they didn’t like it. But I can say that each year, the students seem more and more willing to try because we come every year and talk about it.

“We hope that families will try our recipes at home. Sometimes children have to be exposed to a new food up to seven times before they like it. So we encourage families to increase the variety of foods served in their homes. Maybe pesto won’t be everyone’s favorite,” but it might just become a fresh family treat.

The dietitian urges parents to invite children into the kitchen: “Sometimes if they help make something, they will be more willing to try” eating it.
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