Helping Maryland students access and prepare fresh foods at home during COVID-19

Whisking, stirring and mixing — 12-year-old Will Hammel is learning his way around the kitchen, thanks to a virtual program that offers step-by-step instruction. Will, and students like him, is learning about how food gets to his table, while preparing a meal from home. 

“The most important thing to remember is to make sure you have your ingredients before you start cooking and be ready for any situation,” Will said. “You can adjust recipes, add a little extra seasoning and mix it up to satisfy your taste buds.”

TasteWise Kids, a nonprofit based in Maryland, teaches students about the journey of food through its program, Days of Taste. The three-session program brings chefs, farmers and volunteers together to help children access fresh food and encourage them to make healthier food choices. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Days of Taste was held virtually, with the help of a UnitedHealthcare grant. Students received farm fresh salad kits including lettuce, vinaigrette ingredients, cooking supplies, workbooks (English and Spanish) and online instructional videos to prepare a nutritious meal at home. The organization hopes the program will not only help kids explore the journey of food, but also help them make healthier food choices.

“The UnitedHealthcare-funded initiatives became an integral part of our Days of Taste program, providing active engagement in learning — and providing families with fresh food at a time when many were experiencing food insecurity,” said Riva Eichner Kahn, the director of Days of Taste. 

More than 660,000 people in Maryland are struggling with hunger — among them, roughly 216,000 are children. Those numbers have only steadily increased through the pandemic. By providing healthy food, wrapped in an effort to educate the importance of nutritious choices, Riva said it’s a win-win — students and their families are being fed and supported. 

About 400 students, like Will, participated in the Days of Taste program. Riva said the virtual experience allowed them to learn from a diverse group of chefs and gave them a closer look at a variety of vegetable, pig and chicken farms in Maryland. 

“Students watched online videos and learned directly from food professionals – interacting with chefs and farmers – adding tremendously to the impact of the program and introducing students to new career opportunities,” she said.

Will’s mother, Adrienne, believes when kids are part of the entire process and understand where their food comes from, they’re more willing to try different dishes. 

“Everything is grown somewhere,” Adrienne said. “The more you know about food’s origin, the more enjoyable it is. The first bite leads to a second bite and so on. It’s great to watch the experience through his eyes.” 

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