What We Learned: Exercising Taste Buds with YMCA Campers

By Kathryn Phillips, TQ Volunteer Extraordinaire

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of representing Taste Quest to visit The East Nashville YCAP (YMCA Community Action Programs) for some foodie fun. I came armed with our Summer Bucket List Challenge, snacks to go around, a foodie game, and TQ souvenirs—all I needed were some adventurous kiddos, and boy, did I find some! The hour was spent with 19 YCAP students, ages 10-14, who laughed, learned, and stretched their taste buds. I’m excited to share stories from the day, as well as take-away tips for grownups, and the hummus recipe!

We started with a snack…

It’s no secret that great learning happens on a full stomach, and with Taste Quest, snack-time is always part of our lesson plan! On the menu at our Taste Quest + YCAP event was homemade hummus served with veggies and pita bread. One thing I’ve learned on the job? Kids love to dip.

TIP #1: Pair a familiar food, such as bread, with a less familiar food, such as sweet bell peppers, with any dip of choice and watch the experimentation ensue. The result will be a balanced snack that connects comfort with adventure. This is especially useful in group settings when preferences are bound to vary—even with groups of older kids, like this one. In this particular case, the dip itself—hummus—was the most unfamiliar menu item, and the reactions, well, were pretty hilarious… 

 “What IS this stuff?” 

“Is this supposed to smell like this?” (Picture this coming from a face twisted with skepticism, on the verge of disgust)

“What’s the yellow stuff in here?” (Olive oil)

“I don’t think I eat this stuff.”

“Are these things spicy?” (Nope! These are sweet bell peppers. Not spicy at all!)

This leads me to our second takeaway for parents working on introducing new foods at home: no need to get intimidated at this stage, because this is where the learning happens! That said, it was time to lay some ground rules. 

TIP #2: Try these rules at your own table to make mealtimes go a bit more smoothly. 

Meal-time Rules

  1. All food items are optional. This is a no-pressure environment and no one will force you to eat something you don’t want to eat. That said, you won’t know whether or not you like it unless you try!
  2. The menu is set. No alternative snacks will be provided. 
  3. Respect your neighbor’s likes and dislikes: no trash-talking the snack. No saying, “this is nasty” or “how are you eating that?!”, etc. The point is, your neighbor might love it and it’s important for you to respect that. In short, don’t yuck someone’s yum! 
Find the Recipe at https://cookieandkate.com/best-hummus-recipe/

Then we gave some context…

After the dipping, crunching, and munching began, I started talking about hummus, its ingredients, where it’s from, and how it’s made. For example, all of the students were familiar with beans. Sharing that chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, are a type of bean, made the hummus much more approachable. Therefore…

TIP #3: Tell them all about the food in front of them. More context means more curiosity and familiarity. 

After a few minutes of snacking, chatting, and answering questions, I took a poll: “How many of you are huge hummus fans?” – 9 hands go up. “Pretty, good! How many of you are still deciding or feel so-so about the hummus?” – 7 more hands. “Alright, now how many of you are not the biggest hummus fans, but like another part of the snack?” – the last 4 hands go up. We at Taste Quest consider that a huge success! Every kid ate some portion of the snack and gained exposure to new flavor combinations, textures, temperatures, colors, and cultures..

TIP #4: Don’t expect perfection on the first try. Every new exposure is a success. 

Then the Game…

Play-based learning is kind of our thing. . . With the YCAP kids, we played a game of Foodie Feud to explore variety of flavor, texture, and colors of food. The students were split up into teams and each chose a team name. One group called themselves “Namaste” while another went with “The Ladybugs.”  We played six rounds, and each round a new Taster was selected. The Tasters from each team came to the front and sampled the same mystery ingredient—including olives, chickpeas, and chocolate chips—without their team knowing the ingredient. Then, all the Tasters returned to their teams and had to describe the ingredient with 3 words, without using its real name. The first team to raise their hands and guess the correct ingredient won that round. The best part of Foodie Feud is that it was another opportunity to introduce new foods in a low-pressure, playful environment. It also requires that the kids really dig deep, get creative, and think about the variety of flavors, textures, and colors that exist in the world of food. As it turns out, many of the mystery ingredients were the ingredients of hummus! So, not only did they taste an unfamiliar prepared dish, but they explored its individual components as whole foods of their own. 

The Take-home Challenge…

As we wrapped up, we talked to the YCAP students about their ability to make a real impact in their community. One of the ways to do that is to participate in Taste Quest Challenges, such as our Summer Bucket List Challenge. They were eager to get started, and some even began creating food sculptures with the snack leftovers. With Taste Quest, kid participation triggers donations to local hunger relief organizations. The more kids that play, the larger the impact. Help us continue to empower Nashville youth by visiting the Partner page on our website to find out more ways to engage with Taste Quest.

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