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Sauerkraut Passes the Test at Strafford’s Newton School

  • Second-grader Ava MacPhail, left, votes whether she liked the sauerkraut or didn't, while fellow second-grader Kylie Carter tries a taste at the Newton School in Strafford, Vt., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. The sauerkraut taste test was the school's second of nine they plan to conduct over the course of the year. The final score of the test was 41 yes, 17 maybe and 23 no, meaning sauerkraut would be added to the lunch menu. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Third- and fourth-grade teacher Alyssa Marzot waits to serve more students while seventh-grader Charlize Brown tries a taste of the sauerkraut at Newton School in Strafford, Vt., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. The sauerkraut was made from cabbages grown by the third graders in a competition to see who could grow the largest. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Fifth grader Phoenix Colburn gulps down the last of his second helping of sauerkraut at Newton School, in Strafford, Vt., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. The sauerkraut took 30 days to prepare and was made from student's cabbages grown at the school garden. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Third- and fourth-grade teacher Alyssa Marzot gives instructions for how to construct a bar graph for the sauerkraut taste test results at Newton School in Strafford, Vt., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Introducing new dishes from the Farm-to-School program at Strafford’s Newton School is as much science as it is culinary art.

To record their impressions of new foods, students visiting the cafeteria drop tokens into jars labeled with a happy face, a sad face and a “meh” face. Perhaps their scientific method for last week’s sauerkraut taste test would have benefited from a fourth option: a face with a squinched up mouth and eyes.

“There was a lot of puckering going on,” said Gret Hewes, the school’s food service director.

That’s not to say the ’kraut is out. Overall the fermented cabbage polled surprisingly well among the K-8 set — 41 happy faces, 17 neutral faces and 23 sad faces — affirming the theory that guides the school’s Farm-to-School program and has gained widespread popularity among those tasked with getting kids to eat well: more buy-in equals more bites.

“Students are more likely to eat food that they’ve grown, that they’ve touched, that they’ve felt some sort of ownership for,” said Alyssa Marzot, a third- and fourth-grade teacher and member of the school’s Farm-to-School committee.

That sense of ownership can take many different forms. Students help grow vegetables for the program in school and home gardens and tally and graph the results of the monthly taste tests. Marzot also makes sure to engage the students in discussions about farming, nutrition and food science and to take their input seriously.

It seems to be working. Enthusiasm for the taste test ran high in the lunch room last week as students tossed back tiny plastic cups filled with either traditional sauerkraut or a slightly sweetened version. They chattered about their opinions on the rather unconventional lunchroom fare, and though some exercised their right to bypass the sampling table, quite a few went back for seconds.

Newton School’s experiences align with new research highlighting the value of sampling in getting students to try vegetable dishes in school lunch programs. In a formal study conducted at an unidentified Vermont middle school in 2015 and published this fall in Preventive Medicine Reports, students who were offered samples of new vegetable entrees the day before the entrees were served at lunch were significantly more likely to choose that option the following day.

Although the researchers acknowledge that more research is needed to draw any clear conclusions, they said the study has valuable implications for Farm-to-School programs striving to incorporate local foods into school menus.

The young researchers at Newton School were more matter-of-fact about their findings.

“I tried both kinds, and I liked them both,” said fourth-grader Astrid Girdwood, who, along with her twin sister, Stella, grew the massive cabbages for the sauerkraut taste test in her home garden from seedlings donated to the school by Bonnie Plants, an Alabama plant company that gives cabbage plants to third-grade classes around the country.

Last year, the cabbage harvest became cole slaw. This year, Hewes, who sources as much as possible from local farms and businesses, went out on a limb.

Though the sauerkraut wasn’t as popular as some past taste tests, including a kale-garlic pesto made from vegetables in the school garden that eventually made it onto the regular menu, Newton School likely hasn’t seen the last of it. For one thing, nutrition experts know that a single taste isn’t enough to make a sound judgment. Even the wording of the taste test reflects this reality. The phrase beside the frowning face reads, “don’t like it yet.”

“We try to encourage a growth mindset,” said Marzot, who incorporated the taste test graphs into her math class after lunch.

“Taste buds change,” explained fourth-grader Tanner Hardy. “Sometimes only one taste bud might change, and sometimes they all change.”

Next time she’s confronted with the cabbage harvest, Hewes plans to employ a few additional strategies. She wants to coordinate the taste test with the school lunch menu, so that students can put it on sandwiches or hot dogs instead of eating it a la carte. She also wants to get students involved with making the sauerkraut.

As a kid-friendly project, the dish has a lot going for it. It’s super easy to make, but it requires the kind of regular tending that could serve to heighten anticipation and build that critical buy-in. Not to mention, sauerkraut could even translate to fewer sniffles during the coming winter months. Fermentation produces probiotics, those much coveted allies of the immune system. Want to pucker up with your kids at home? Here is Hewes’ recipe (taken from allrecipes.com)

Easy Sauerkraut Recipe

Ingredients

5 pounds of cabbage

3 tablespoons kosher salt

Steps

Chop the cabbage into bite-size pieces and sprinkle it with the kosher salt. Put it in a crock or pail and cover it with water. Place a plastic bag filled with salt water on top of the mixture so that no cabbage pieces are floating above the brine. Cover with a wet cloth (not a tight-fitting lid).

Every few days, stir the mixture and change the cloth and water. After 30 days, sauerkraut can be transferred into lidded jars and kept in the refrigerator for up to one year.

To cook, strain the desired amount of cabbage, wash off some of the brine and boil in a large pot for about 45 minutes. Add seasonings such as celery seed or caraway seeds if desired. Serve with a slotted spoon.

Sarah Earle can be reached searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.