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More Please: Convincing Kids to Eat Tomatoes

It’s mid-July, and gardens throughout New Jersey are overflowing with tomatoes. If you are like us, this is your favorite time of year. We’ve been waiting months to finally bite into the fist ripe tomato, still warm from the sun, a transcendental experience.

While many may share our sentiment for tomatoes straight from the garden, you may not be surprised to learn that when we walked into a summer camp with a bag of tomatoes and explained to a group of nine year olds that we’d be making a tomato salad, we received looks of shock and horror.

So, how do we transform this group of tomato skeptics into tomato lovers? We follow these fail proof steps:

First, set the tone for the class. Positivity is key. We remind students to keep an open-mind, use kind words, and refrain from any negative terms, especially before tasting a dish.

Next, make the activity hands-on. Each student plays an active role in preparing a recipe. They may be slicing tomatoes, chopping herbs, or measuring ingredients for dressing. This gives kids ownership of the dish and cultivates an emotional connection and sense of pride. Would you want to invest all that hard work into creating a meal and then not even try it? Of course not!

Finally, it’s key to celebrate successes (even small ones). If students liked what they tried, that’s an enormous success. Make it a big deal. Was there a student who overcame a fear of trying a new food? Congratulate her. Was a student apprehensive about touching a tomato but will now tolerate it on the plate? Affirm him.

Additionally, remember to create a safe space by letting students know that it is okay not to like something. Never shame them for not being ready to try something new. This process takes time.

So, what did the nine year olds at summer camp think of the tomato salad they prepared? We’re proud to report that their expressions of shock and horror were replaced by delight as each student tasted the salad. Eight of the twelve students asked for seconds, some licking their plates clean, and one student shared that it was her first time eating a tomato and that she hoped to make this recipe at home.

We’d call this a successful day.

About the Grantee

Isles Inc.

Founded in 1981, Isles, Inc. is a community development and environmental organization based in Trenton, New Jersey. With a mission to foster self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities, we design and develop effective services that support this mission and share what we learn with others who can make a difference.