Silverthorne Elementary second-grader Djibril Sylla took a bite of a big piece of asparagus Friday and declared it tasted like celery before asking for another one. His friend seated next to him at the lunch table also chewed on a stalk and simply gave a big thumbs up to the vegetable.
The boys were trying out the greens as part of Fresh Friday at the school, an effort to introduce new veggies to kids. At Friday's lunch, the asparagus and yellow squash were served, and flyers explaining what the two vegetables are - "asparagus is a nutrient-dense food which is high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C and thiamin - were on all the cafeteria tables. Sylla and his friends read over the sheet before taking their first bites.
This is the third time the event has been held at the school, in a collaboration between the Silverthorne Elementary Wellness Team and Summit School District's nutrition service director Joel Hauswirth. The veggies are available to children at the salad bar, and for those with bagged lunches, passed out on trays.
It really all started with Friendship Day (celebrated on Valentine's Day in the district). Wellness team members and parents Renee Rogers and Catherine Kirkwood Smith approached Hauswirth about providing trays of veggies and fruits for kids, so they wouldn't be overwhelmed by chocolate. The result: both kids and the teachers really enjoyed it. Teachers were even going over what the different offerings were with each student.
"It was phenomenal to watch the kids learn," Kirkwood Smith said.
And since then, a few Fresh Fridays have been held. At one, jicama, a sweet root vegetable, was on display in its raw form so children can recognize it in the future, Hauswirth said.
This past Friday, first-grader Jose Serrano tried the squash or "the yellow one." He said he had never had it, but it was good and he would try it again.
Kids were really enjoying the veggies and asking for more, Rogers said after she passed trays out to the kindergartners, first- and second-graders.
"I think they're doing great, I think it's a hit," she said.
The hope is that instead of following in their friends' footsteps when they refuse veggies in the lunch line, the opposite will happen: Kids will think greens are cool and get them when their fellow students pick them up. And hopefully, it will become second nature to eat these things on a daily basis, Rogers said.
"The ultimate goal is to get away from the usual suspects," Hauswirth said. "Just encouraging variety, because that's what we're going to see next year."
Next school year, the United States Department of Agriculture's new lunch requirements go into effect. The biggest changes include a whole range of veggie "subgroups" like leafy greens and red and orange vegetables. The goal is to get a big variety on children's plates throughout the week.
Hauswirth hopes to build on the success of Fresh Fridays and bring them district-wide next year.
"Overall, I think the kids are willing and acceptable," Rogers said. "They really get excited about it."