Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What's Inside Our Food?

Mealtimes with Cohort 7 are an important part of our time together at Tumbleweed, and these days we are often sitting around the table together for thirty minutes or more at a time.  We recently acquired a bigger table, which has allowed me to do some of the meal preparation at the table in front of the children.  We enjoy produce in its raw form at almost every meal, giving the children the opportunity to observe food when it is whole and to witness the process of cutting and selecting the parts that we choose to eat.  
Carefully tasting an avocado peel.
"No stem!"

I almost always offer the group a chance to pass the fruit or vegetable around the table before I cut it open.  Many types of produce are quite familiar to the children in this form – apples, bananas, and carrots, for instance, have been long-time staples for everyone and they are used to seeing these whole.  When they are passed around there is sometimes an air of impatience as though they are saying, “Yes, we know this is how bananas look!  Let’s eat it now!”  But as the weather grows warmer relatively unfamiliar produce has been making its way to our table – watermelon, mangos, peaches, etc.   The mood at the table is different when I pass these around.  There are shouts of “Wow!” or “Big!” There are questions: “Seeds?” “Cut?”  We talk at length about how the food appears and what it feels like when we touch it. 

Once we are ready to prepare the produce for eating I ask the children for space around the cutting board.  They all watch carefully as I split the food in half.  Watermelons have been especially surprising recently as the exterior of the fruit gives no hint of what will be inside.  The children are taken aback and excited by the redness and the stark difference in texture between the rind and the flesh.  We each have a taste.  The children often nod as they eat, giving their approval.  They also look to each other to see how they are enjoying the food.  I use this time to provide vocabulary for what we are all experiencing as a group:  “The watermelon is juicy!  It’s soft to bite into.  It has a sweet taste.”  The children will often echo a word or two from these sentences and they are slowly beginning to spontaneously label food in this way. 

The process of preparing and eating food generates many conversations about the parts of produce that we don’t eat – the seeds, stems, and core.  This aligns nicely with the work we are doing outside, planting seeds and caring for the resulting sprouts.  We recently started collecting the seeds from our produce in a small glass jar.  Everyday we work together to find the core of whatever it is we are having and search for the seeds (or pit) lying within.  We talk about how the seeds are protected by the strong core so that one day they can be planted and more of the same food can grow.  We are noticing the differences between seeds and our ability to collect them – for instance, it is easy to find and collect the seeds of an apple, but not so with a cucumber.  Last week we shared a bell pepper together and the children were surprised to notice countless bright seeds for collecting!  Together we are developing an appreciation for the similarities and differences between all kinds of produce.  We cherish our time at the table, a space for exploring and discussing a fundamental part of our day – the food we eat!

Passing around an avocado peel.

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