March in Michigan, especially this year, looked nothing like spring. So when seeking out locally grown food to serve the students, we had to think about the foods that were harvested in the fall and stored over the winter. This time, we went with Bosc Pears grown at Friske Orchards in Ellsworth, MI. We had students and teachers try them in a “Crunchy Pear Salad“, a recipe we modeled off of a classic Waldorf Salad. The pears were of a variety that some students are less familiar with, so serving them in a salad with pineapple, pineapple juice, celery, and a little bit of lettuce was our way of inciting students to try the pears and also get an opportunity to taste them with complementary flavors.
While we did not anticipate that students would be as enthusiastic about the Crunchy Pear Salad as they were about last month’s Wholegrain Blueberry Bars, this month’s results showed that students felt relatively positive about what they tried. Especially considering that the pears were a little unevenly ripe, the responses we got were quite positive.
We asked students in grades 3-12 “Would you like this item on the school lunch menu?” and these were their responses, broken down by school (Wylie grades 3-4, Creekside 5-6, Mill Creek 7-8, DHS 9-12). The “Yes, if . . .” category gave students a chance to give their suggestions, many of which included feedback such as “without the celery” or “if the pears were ripe” or “if it was only the pears and pineapple”.
The two K-2 schools had especially positive responses this month:
Students at Wylie Elementary (grades 3 and 4) were, once again, very engaged, with a total of 162 students who turned in a survey response! We have consistently had the most participation in both the tasting itself, and the survey responses at Wylie. Especially in grades 7 and up, we notice many students try a sample without turning in a survey response. At Wylie, though, the students seem very excited to offer their opinion and are often curious about the results of the surveys from the group.
Students at Wylie left comments like these:
“I think it tasted like heaven.”
“If there was a perfect box, I’d check there!”
“Teeny bit tough.”
“Everything was good beside the lettuce.”
“You just have to work on the look.”
“Do it during pear season.”
The last comment especially shows how sophisticated many Dexter students’ tastes already are! We have really been feeling lucky lately to be in a community with so many resources and support, and comments like this show us that the right kind of exposure to agriculture and healthy eating at a young age, can do wonders for students’ eating habits for the rest of their lives. Students at Creekside, who also have quite sophisticated understandings of how food is grown and cooked due to their kitchen/garden program, were a bit more critical of this recipe.
Creekside students said things like:
“Delicious. I love pears.”
“I thought the pears were really good and it was a good idea to put pineapples in with the pears.”
“Very nice! Loved the pear skin!”
“Did not like the celery.”
“Needs to be softer”
“Just give pears. The rest ruins it.”
“Without the celery and lettuce it would be AMAZING!”
“It tastes very good! I like the juice and flavor!”
“Why do the things you bring in always taste better than what’s served in the cafeteria?”
Students at Mill Creek were very positive about the flavor and a little more critical of the texture, citing the pears’ unripeness as their main deterrent:
Middle schoolers’ comments included:
“no celery please.”
“Felt like an apple.”
“They might be better in season.”
At DHS, we noticed more student engagement this month, with significantly more students trying the samples than in previous months, and many coming back for seconds or picking up a bunch for their friends. The survey responses were also very positive, and led us to believe that the pears either on their own or in this salad recipe would be a great addition to the salad bar at the high school. Kitchen staff also said that their students are already pretty familiar with this variety of pear, and that they do choose to eat them when they are served on the line, which has happened several times in the last few weeks since getting them in. At the sample table, we also had a bowl of sunflower seeds for students to sprinkle on top of their salad.
High school students said:
“We really need more fruits and vegetables!”
“The pineapple added interesting flavor to the pears.”
“A little unripe.”
“The mixture of flavors was pleasant!”
“Needs more celery and spinach.” (Yes, that’s what they said!)
“Mild sweetness combined with the savory seeds makes for a wonderfully intricate combo.”
“Excellent. Crunchy yet moist.”
“Sweet but not too sweet.”
Another important part of our progress this month was the increased involvement of the kitchen staff in the preparation of the pears for the tastings. Some kitchens had more difficulty than others in cutting up the pears for the tasting. Some kitchens have precious little prep/counter space, improper types of knives for certain tasks or dull knives, or limited tools for chopping the pears to the correct size. One kitchen staff member even brought in a chopper from home to see if it would benefit the process, which it did! Other kitchens already had tools like this, and they were able to cut up large amounts of pears before our team even arrived! We are grateful that the staff was willing to put the work in, remain patient with the process, and for their continued support of this project. We hope that moving forward, each of these challenges within the kitchens will be met with support from the school, administration, and wider community. The Food and Nutrition staff in Dexter are hard-working, dedicated, and amazingly positive given the challenges they face each day (which really is true of all the staff within the District)! Our hope is that this project will serve to increase the visibility of the difficult job they perform everyday, and motivate the community to come together around meeting the needs in our school kitchens.
Thanks to the Dexter Food and Nutrition staff and parent volunteers who helped make this month’s Farm Fresh Food Days successful!