Having students taste healthy food items is at the heart of nutrition education, because if students have the opportunity to try and like healthier foods, they’ll be more likely to become healthier eaters. Taste tests are a fun and engaging way to explore new foods and get a little creative in the kitchen. Using all five senses, children can learn more about the health benefits of their favorite foods or discover their taste for something new. Play with combinations of sweet and savory, and test out alternative ways to prepare foods. At home you can make trying new foods less intimidating for children by inviting them to join you in the kitchen when cooking, planning a grocery list or for a healthy taste test! Make your taste test as simple or as grand as you’d like with these tips and resources!
Pick a Time and Place for Your Taste Test
Tasting at School
Complement nutrition education lessons with a taste test or use taste-testing as a way to celebrate the culmination of a nutrition unit.
Do a taste test as part of a science or language arts lesson. Ask students to describe the size, shape, color, smell and texture of the food in a journal, and discuss afterward.
For a taste test in the cafeteria, consider these set-up options:
Place sampling cups on the line so students can grab a sample as they get their lunch.
Set up a taste testing table where students can stop by after they finish their lunch.
Make it mobile! Decorate an extra cart with stickers and balloons, load it up with samples, and take it from table to table in the lunchroom.
Set up a table outside the cafeteria so students can take a sample on their way into or out of the lunchroom.
Host a taste test at back-to-school events, math or literacy nights, or parent-teacher nights. Use it as an opportunity to inform parents about your nutrition education efforts.
Tasting at home
The kitchen table
Outside on a picnic blanket. Not so nice weather – set up a picnic taste test on the living room floor!
Theme it Out
Tasting At School
Make taste testing part of school celebrations. For example, Halloween pumpkin seed snacks.
Host a P.A.C.K. Week at your school, where students bring in a different colored fruit or vegetable as a snack each day.
Tasting At Home
Switch things up by adopting a theme for your next family meal. Use family dinner time as an opportunity to learn about different cultures and culinary practices. Rotate themed dinners and switch off which family member chooses each theme. Need an idea to start? Start by working together to cook a traditional family recipe. Discuss your family heritage and provide a space for children to ask questions about family history and culture.
Dress up, play music, add in games and recipes that align with your theme! Voyage to a seaside dinner by playing tropical music, wearing summery clothes and testing out tropical recipes. Explore the mountains with a camping theme by cooking foil packet recipes, baking s’mores and telling campfire stories around a picnic on the floor.
Schedule a taste testing party for a particular food group. Here are some ideas for whole grain taste tests, fruit and veggie taste tests, and dairy taste tests.
Help children experience new foods through food art. Taste test the foods used to create food art masterpieces.
Explore cuisine across different cultures: Choose a specific region of the world to focus on for your family taste test. Start with more familiar cuisines and work your way up to other areas of the world. A good place to start is to search the internet for “traditional [enter cuisine type] healthy foods.” Experiencing foods from contrasting cultures allows children to broaden their perspective of the world and gain a social understanding of cultural differences.
Taste Tests with a Twist: Take a recipe that is packed with vitamins and minerals that can easily be made with a twist. For example, adding pineapple or mango to salsa for immune boosting Vitamin C and the organ-supporting benefits of Vitamin A! Hungry for another twist? Check out these recipes from Dole, or create one of your own.
Explore Farm to Table to better understand the journey from seed to market.
Does your school have a garden? Use freshly harvested produce in your taste test. Learn more about school gardens and farm to school.
See an interesting new fruit or vegetable? Give it a try! Have children learn more about the mystery fruit by googling the history and origin of the food. Ask children to make connections across different cultures and to compare similar foods and culinary practices.
For example, on your next grocery run, pick up a plantain and a banana. Research the difference between the extremely similar fruits and you may find that plantains are in the banana family but contain less sugar and taste less sweet than traditional bananas. They are also used differently around the world!
Prepare your chosen taste test food in different ways to show children how the preparation of food changes the taste.
For example, try making baked sweet potato fries in the oven and sprinkle one half with salt and garlic powder and the other half with cinnamon for both sweet and savory tastes of nutritious sweet potatoes.
Allow children to touch, smell, squish, and poke the food to break down any walls of fear or obscurity. When children use all five of the senses to learn about a new food, it helps them ease into a new experience.
Create a Rating System
Ask each student or family member to categorize each new food they taste. Categories can include but are not limited to: “I Love It”, “I Like It”, or “I Tried It”. Talk to children about appropriate and respectful methods to communicate their likes and dislikes with others. Teach children to respect others’ tastes and preferences even if they may differ from their own.
To create a more detailed rating system, ask students or family members to rate their foods from 1-10, 10 being their favorite food of the taste test and 1 being their least favorite.
Pick Your Favorites and Think Big
After your taste test is over, ask each student or family member to list their favorites. Can you create a recipe using many or all of these foods?
Tasting At School
Provide poster space for students to write recipe ideas on post-it notes. Let students vote on their favorite recipe idea and taste it next!
Tasting At Home
Use collaboration and communication skills to create a specific family recipe including many of your family’s new favorites.
Involve all family members in the cooking of new dishes. Cooking with children teaches children confidence in the kitchen and a deeper connection with the physical, mental, and social impacts of food.
Social Emotional Health Highlights
Activities such as these help students explore…
Self-Awareness: Allowing children to decide for themselves whether they do or do not like a certain food at a taste test helps them to establish self-efficacy and self-confidence to speak up about their preferences. A taste test encourages children to step out of their comfort zones and learn more about themselves by being brave and trying something new!
Social Awareness: Taste tests are a great way to showcase foods and culinary practices from different cultures. Children can learn more about their peers likes and dislikes, or favorite dishes at home, by identifying similarities and differences and practice perspective-talking when sharing about their own.
Responsible Decision Making: Providing children with healthy food options creates an openness in the school community to discuss optimal nutrition and how it can be achieved through the discovery and exploration of new foods. Even though a child does not like carrots, doesn’t mean they won’t like peas! Letting children make the decision for themselves increases the chances that they will choose healthier foods in the future.
When tasting fruits and vegetables, show students the fruit or vegetable in its whole and cut up forms. This will help students identify the fruit or vegetable in the grocery store.
Use students as a resource to increase your capacity: Students can be involved in preparing and serving samples, encouraging their peers to participate, and surveying students afterward.
Engage your school nutrition staff to help purchase food or help facilitate a taste test during breakfast or lunch.
Get student input using age-appropriate surveys. If possible, incorporate items students liked best into the school meal program.
Be strategic. If tasting broccoli or starfruit in the cafeteria, provide teachers with materials to teach students about the benefits of broccoli and starfruit. Then, include a sample recipe in the school newsletter so parents can extend the tasting at home.
Taste testing is more than tasting! Encourage students to examine how a food looks, smells and feels when it’s ripe. Use this opportunity to expand student vocabulary by introducing new adjectives to describe food.
Extend your family taste-test out to the entire family regardless of where they live by hosting a virtual family taste test! Send the ingredients to other family members in advance. Once everyone has set up a similar workspace with similar ingredients, create a video chat or phone call to share the experience from near and far.
Engage volunteers. Who in your network has skills or interests that complement your needs and can provide a helping hand?
Complement taste testing with nutrition education. Communicate why the food is healthy through posters, morning “eat better” announcements, or mini-lessons in the classroom.
Incorporate well-known foods into taste tests to make the experience less daunting. Allow children to try familiar and unfamiliar foods at their own pace. Never force a child to consume the foods.
Create a fun, welcoming atmosphere that will enhance the experience for children. Play background music or make it a family cooking challenge.
Hosting a health and wellness fair at school is a great way to share information with students, staff, families and the community about healthy eating, physical activity, health services, and other local health and wellness resources.
Nutrition education is especially important for kids, as they establish food patterns that carry into adulthood. Teaching students about MyPlate and the benefits of each food group can help promote healthy eating from a young age.