Spearheading Change in Food Education in Chicago

Spearheading Change In Food Education In Chicago

Tue 06 Aug 2013

Story by Melissa Graham

Not many students get to try jicama, kumquats, and cocoa beans. Fortunately, however, because of Purple Asparagus, over a thousand children across Chicago are able to try these unique and interesting foods. Purple Asparagus is a non-profit organization that educates children, families, and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. We bring delicious, nutritious hands-on adventures to schools, community organizations, and farmers’ markets throughout Chicagoland.

Delicious, Nutritious Adventures to Students

This past year, Purple Asparagus was able to enhance the lives of over 1100 students in 17 different schools across the Chicagoland area. Our flagship program, Delicious, Nutritious Adventures, brings foods to life for kids in elementary school classrooms.

During Delicious, Nutritious Adventures, students are introduced to new foods and learn about where they come from and why they taste the way they do. Taught during the school day, each monthly class highlights a seasonal ingredient starting with apples in October and ending with berries in June.

We begin by reading books about the highlighted ingredient of the day and children learn new vocabulary to describe the foods like “sour” or “nutty”. The kids then get to touch, feel, smell, and, of course, taste the foods. The second half is a cooking lesson. Children learn how to make three simple recipes accomplished from start to finish at their desks

While there is always potential to expand and improve, a midpoint evaluation conducted by The Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE) displays positive results of our programming. In a student questionnaire administered in 10 participating classrooms, students were asked about their past experience eating five foods that are introduced in Purple Asparagus lessons. After just two Delicious Nutritious Adventure classes, over 75% of the students said that they wanted to learn more about fruits and vegetables a lot. Over 75% also said that they wanted to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, there was a significant correlation between liking to try new foods and the desire to eat more fruits and vegetables. This suggests that the more foods the children try during the program, the more likely they will want to continue to eat healthily in the future. The data from this study show a positive response to the program, and there will be a follow up study performed in the future to solidify these initial results.

In addition to student evaluations, a parental evaluation was performed as well. The majority of the parents reported cooking at least one of our recipes at home, and most reported that they have cooked at least four to five of our recipes. On average, families had cooked two to three recipes.

Our success continues to be evident with some comments from our parents:
“I LOVE what you do. You make my Jack so much more willing to try foods. Jack is a very tough eater, and I hope this project continues. Thank you for all you do.”

“My son enjoys helping in the kitchen - Purple Asparagus inspired him to help more and suggest things that we could make together.”

Overall, Purple Asparagus’ Delicious, Nutritious Adventures have been a big hit. We currently have at least 11 schools on a waitlist for programming and our existing schools have greatly appreciated and benefited from our programs.

We hope to expand and build more programming in the future, continuing to educate children across Chicago about healthy eating that is both good for us and fun!

About the author: Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, an award-winning 501(c)(3) non-profit that educates children, families and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Though its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program, Purple Asparagus teaches thousands of parents and children about healthful, sustainable eating in schools, community centers, and farmers' markets throughout Chicago and the suburbs. In recognition for her work, Melissa also serves Chicago Public School’s Nutrition Education Steering Committee.


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