Oak View students learn about sweet potatoes, the good way

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 02:46 PM

HIGH POINT — Why do sweet potatoes taste so good if no sugar is added? And how can they be good for your eyes and skin?

The answers usually are taught in classrooms.

Recently, however, answers were accompanied by the buttery warmth of real sweet potatoes and the smell of cinnamon wafting through the halls of Oak View Elementary School.

Children who filed in and out of the cafeteria for their lunches also received a small cup of mashed sweet potatoes made with only butter, cinnamon and a little salt. Each child who gave it a try received a sticker to place on a board with three categories: I liked it. It’s OK. It’s not for me.

“I liked it” won overwhelmingly.

“I had them at home with marshmallows, too. I liked this better — no, both,” said second-grader Joshua Hughes.  “I’m going to tell everybody I had some.”

“I had them before, but I never liked them, but I like these. I don’t like any other sweet potatoes. I liked that they had a creamy, hot taste,” said second-grader Abby Bare.

Oak View students were able to help prepare and taste sweet potatoes through FoodCorps, a national nonprofit group with the mission of fighting childhood obesity, improving school food and teaching kids about nutrition and food.

At each lunch period, several children donned hair coverings and plastic gloves to help adult students from the culinary arts program at Guilford Technical Community College prepare the sweet potatoes. Oak View students mostly wielded huge food smashers.

Third-grader Charlie Winther, a chef for the day, said he’d made something at home with broccoli and “tons of butter and salt,” but he’d never smashed food before, and he enjoyed it. Why? “Because it was fun,” he said.

FoodCorps sends team members into nine Title I elementary schools in High Point. Eliza Hudson is one of the FoodCorps representatives who serves Guilford County. She traditionally leads classroom programs to educate kids about healthy eating and works with FoodCorps’ host organization, Guilford County Cooperative Extension Service, in building and tending school gardens and developing the program.

Tastings are relatively new, and Hudson likes them because they involve the entire school. Last month, Oak View student chefs helped prepare kale and avocado salad, which was sampled by the entire school and was a hit.

“From the moment those first kindergartners started coming into the cafeteria, they were curious and looking over (at the student chefs), and then a couple teachers came over to ask what was going on,” Hudson said. “Just the excitement factor is a huge thing. Seeing their peers, siblings or neighbors do something is a huge reason we make the food choices we do and why we have the diets we do.”

Students in GTCC’s culinary arts program helped with this week’s sweet potato tasting. They prepared the sweet potatoes and portioned-out the additions, then helped the kids mash and serve the finished product.

Keith Gardiner, who wore a huge, white chef’s toque at Oak View, wears three figurative hats. He’s an instructor of culinary arts at GTCC, a member of FoodCorps and president of the N.C. division of the American Culinary Federation.

“It’s great to see kids want to try fresh, whole foods, and they love it, especially if they get a sticker,” Gardiner said. “These are North Carolina-grown sweet potatoes (provided by Whole Foods), so they’re better nutritionally.”

GTCC culinary student Sandra Conyers had fun talking with kids about how sweet potatoes help them see better and are good for their skin and hair.

Michael Nasralla obviously was in his element helping student chefs smash, then hand out cups of sweet potatoes to children having lunch.

“When I was passing out stickers, one kid said he liked trying new things because if you don’t try, you never know if you’re going to like it, and I was like, ‘OK’,” Nasralla said.

Second grade teacher Kerry Terry prepared her students for the tasting with a history lesson that several obviously retained.

“I’ve heard about George Washington Carver, and he told the farmers about sweet potatoes and peanuts,” Joshua Hughes said.

“(The tasting) reminded me of Cesar Chavez,” said Abby Bare. “He’s not really, but he’s a migrant worker, and it reminded me that his guys planted the sweet potatoes, and then they cooked it up.”

vknopfler@hpe.com / 888-3601  

About FoodCorps
Affiliated with and partially funded by AmeriCorps, it operates in 12 states.
State host organizations: Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina 4-H
Local host organization: Guilford County Cooperative Extension Service
High Point schools served: Allen Jay, Oak View, Northwood, Parkview, Kirkman Park, Union Hill, Oak Hill, Johnson Street and Fairview elementary schools