For as long as I can remember, I’ve grown tomatoes. I think they are the gateway crop for home gardeners. Tomatoes aren’t just versatile, they’re gorgeous! Who doesn’t love at least one form of tomato?
I remember as a child thinking I didn’t like tomatoes, to which my parents responded, “What about ketchup?” They had me there. I loved (and still love) ketchup. Times have changed (or my work makes me biased) because I’ve seen kids take tomatoes right off the vine and bite into them the way they would an apple. In fact, my one-year-old niece recently did this (unprompted) in my backyard!
Tomatoes are irresistible and kids are naturally curious, so it really doesn’t take much convincing to get them to try tomatoes. For the last four years, I’ve had the joy of leading second grade students through a Triple Tomato Taste Test at Pueblo Vista Magnet School. As part of the Common Core Cooking theme, “Trying New Foods,” this lesson capitalizes on students’ natural curiosity.
How a fruit or vegetable is introduced makes all the difference. To connect to the Next Generation Science Standards, I frame the lesson with a discussion of characteristics of matter. Here’s how I’ve conducted this back-to-school garden lesson in the past:
- Start with students sitting in a Community Circle. Set norms for participation.
- Model how to observe like a scientist. Review the five senses and make an observation about the tomato. Remind students tasting comes later.
- Pass a large, heavy tomato around the circle and invite each student to say one observation aloud.
- After all students have observed, ask, “Is the tomato solid, liquid, or gas?” “How do we know this tomato is made of matter?”
- Introduce a produce scale and explain that weight is evidence that something is made of matter.
- Predict the weight and then, with much anticipation, place the tomato on the scale.
The opening segment engages students with food in an unexpected way, which disarms any apprehension they may have about trying new foods. That’s when we proceed with the taste test.
First, I poll the class, asking who has tried a tomato before. It’s important to remain neutral here; shock or shaming does little good when trying to turn kids on to new tastes.
After introducing three different types of tomatoes and making observations of shape, size, color, students are eager to taste. We use the following procedure:
- Wash hands thoroughly.
- Take only one piece, using the fork or pick.
- Really focus on the taste and texture.
- No “Mr. Yuck” faces.
- Vote on your favorite.
When everyone has tasted as many as they want, I conclude the lesson by tallying the results.
When students return to their classroom from the garden/tasting portion of the lesson, teachers read Lauren Child’s I will never, not ever, eat a tomato. Students talk about fun food names and write fantasy food stories and make a list of descriptive words about tomatoes (e.g., juicy, tart, sweet, etc.).
Comparative tastings are not just a tool for getting kids to try new foods. Foodies, gardeners, agriculturalists, winemakers, and many others enjoy structured sensory analysis. The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County hold a tomato contest every September! Until we’re allowed to congregate again, you can enjoy reading about how to set up a tomato tasting.
As a result of more time at home this spring, I planted more tomatoes than ever! Recently, my husband said, unprompted, “If I were a tomato, I’d be a Green Zebra tomato.” Of course we included it in our home taste test!
With more than 7,500 varieties, there’s something for everyone in the tomato family. Appreciating diversity and eating veggies at the same time? That’s a winning combination!