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Markku Mikola: Taste classes support children’s growth into confident experimenters and consumers

Some people today have lost the natural relationship with food and eating. Eating may be regarded only as refuelling, the amount and quality of food having little importance. Eating may also be a source of embarrassment, as it can make you gain weight. Eating may be marred by excessive control over calories or the amount of fibre in the diet. Eating may also be an indulgence – sometimes moderate, sometimes excessive. Eating is also an activity you do on the side while doing something else, such

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Some people today have lost the natural relationship with food and eating. Eating may be regarded only as refuelling, the amount and quality of food having little importance. Eating may also be a source of embarrassment, as it can make you gain weight. Eating may be marred by excessive control over calories or the amount of fibre in the diet. Eating may also be an indulgence – sometimes moderate, sometimes excessive. Eating is also an activity you do on the side while doing something else, such as watching television or working on a computer: when you are not paying attention you may end up eating too much.

Taste classes are part of a campaign aiming to support normal eating habits and remind us of the real value of food. The concept was originally developed in France, and its purpose is to have children learn new things through activities involving food and eating.  Known internationally as the SAPERE method, the concept supports children’s development in becoming brave and unprejudiced to try various foods. The international SAPERE association supports taste classes in different countries.

Sitra’s Food and Nutrition Programme (ERA) supported the production of learning materials for taste classes for Finnish children of different ages. Once the ERA Programme was completed in winter 2008, learning materials for taste classes were been published for lower secondary students and children in primary and pre-primary education. Now, 18 months later, material is also available for after-school activity groups.

What are taste classes?

In taste classes all senses are employed to support learning. The exercises encourage children to feel, see, smell as well as taste food. All senses and their role in the eating experiences are discussed. Children examine different ingredients, learn about where they come from and get exposed to different ways of preparing food. Children also learn how to describe and share eating experiences. The exercises diversify and expand children’s experiences about food and also help them grow into discerning and critical consumers.

The exercises would probably be useful to adults as well: it is both important and enjoyable to concentrate on eating instead of simply gorging during meals. How often do we stop to realise that even hearing forms part of the eating experience? What would crisp bread taste like if you couldn’t here the crunch while you ate it? What would milk that has been coloured red taste like? We are more familiar with the link between smell and taste: when we have a cold and cannot smell much, when most food tends to taste bland. When this line of thinking is taken further, we realise that much of what constitutes a flavour is in fact the smell. Have you ever tasted food with your eyes closed while holding your nose: you will not taste much anything.  The softness of the taste of mayonnaise or yoghurt is largely based on its texture. But what about the sense of taste itself? There are five basic tastes that can be discerned by the sense of taste alone: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. The first four are quite self-explanatory, but the fifth basic taste, umami, is more difficult to define – it is like a savoury taste of meat.

Nutritional education may be a touchy subject for  children and young people.  Taste classes provide a solution for this as well: it is a natural way of approaching food without involving the nutritional values and calories in foods. A fun way of exploring the world of food, it helps children to start trying out new foods and flavours – something that the parents of many small children would welcome. Using food and senses in teaching offers children tools to grow into aware individuals with a natural attitude towards the joys and restrictions related with eating.

What will happen next?

The promotion programme for Finnish food culture SRE has actively promoted the taste class concept by supporting several related  projects. The programme has also supported projects that have employed results produced with the ERA Programme.

The Federation of Home Economics Teachers is applying the taste class concept with primary school children and is producing additional learning material. The Swedish Martha Association in Finland is active in Swedish-speaking education with its own project,“SMACK — smak för alla sinne”.

The Centre for School Clubs has published (materials are available in Finnish and Swedish) guidelines for taste classes organised by school clubs, which also serve teachers who wish to use the method in their teaching.

The SAPERE method will be introduced in early childhood education in a total of 30 units including day-care centres and private day care in seven municipalities in Central Finland and in the City of Turku.

Whether entitled taste class or the SAPERE method, it seems that the concept is becoming an established part of learning for Finnish children and young people.

The author holds a doctorate in Food Sciences with special interest in eating and tasting.

Teema

Uudistumiskyky

Teknologian kehitys ja digitalisaatio muuttavat arkemme vauhdilla. Siksi myös yhteiskunnan rakenteiden ja käyttämiemme palvelujen tulee uudistua. Tähän tarvitsemme uudenlaisia, luottamukseen perustuvia kumppanuuksia, yhteisiä, tietoon perustuvia tavoitteita ja ihmisten osallisuuden vahvistamista. Uudistumiskyky-teema työskentelee näiden tavoitteiden puolesta.

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