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Taste classes for school kids

At French schools, pupils are taught how the sense of taste works. Soon it will be possible to offer such taste classes in Finland too.

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At French schools, pupils are taught how the sense of taste works. Soon it will be possible to offer such taste classes in Finland too. Finnish experiments have been compiled into an easy-to-use handbook that describes both the contents of the taste classes and the ways of collaborating with food industry companies. The purpose of the taste classes is to encourage children to try different foods, to discuss different tastes and thereby help them grow into knowledgeable eaters and food consumers.

The handbook for taste classes is the result of research and follow-up projects carried out in 2004-2007 at the University of Helsinki Department of Food Technology. The training material based on the French Classes du Goût framework was supplemented in the Viikki Teacher Training School, where pilot classes were held, with information on Finnish and international food traditions. Furthermore, the test pupils learnt more thoroughly than their French counterparts about porridges, rye bread, yoghurts, various aromas, cheeses and meat products – this section was carried out in collaboration with the Finnish food industry.

The taste classes held at the Viikki school trained all the senses used when eating. The pupils learnt how to describe verbally the different qualities of food. The children’s observations became more accurate as the classes progressed. In the first classes, the children used words such as “yuck” or “yum” to describe the foods, while by the end of the series of classes they could give as many as ten different adjectives describing a type of bread. The enthusiasm to experiment with new tastes increased during the classes.

Handbook and collaboration models

For the taste classes to become a distributable model after the experimental stage, all information gathered was compiled into a handbook aimed at teachers and educators. The handbook was funded by Sitra’s Food and Nutrition Programme, ERA.

The handbook provided contents and teaching materials for ten classes. – “It was interesting to see how enthusiastic eight-year-old children were about, for example, Finnish traditional specialties, such as mämmi or ‘squeaky cheese’,” says Professor Sari Mustonen from the University of Helsinki, who specialises in sensory food science and has helped develop the taste classes. “There isn’t always time in families to talk about traditions linked with our dining habits.” The project also involved corporate collaboration, which worked well. For example, the yoghurt test and a visit to the bakery were very popular among the children. “According to teacher feedback, students were eager to participate in the pilot classes and they were eagerly awaited. Pupils’ parents have also welcomed the introduction of the classes.

Taste classes in all Finnish schools?

France launched taste classes as early as in the 1980s, because their children’s diets were becoming exceedingly monotonous. The taste classes were created to support a positive and natural attitude towards food and eating in children. The Swedes launched their taste classes during the current decade by training some four hundred classroom teachers, home economics teachers and school catering personnel to supervise taste classes. Elsewhere in Europe, taste schools in the Netherlands (Smaaklessen) have been attended by over 20,000 children. The recently completed taste class material package and results gained from the experiment will now encourage Finnish teachers to try the taste classes as part of their teaching schedule.

Marjaana Manninen, Senior Adviser from the National Board of Education, thinks that the taste classes are a step towards raising the profile of Finnish food and improving people’s knowledge and skills concerning food. “It is important that schools provide experiences of participation and revelation,” she says. Resources are now required for the further development of taste classes, extension studies and teaching materials. “A model that is tried and tested and well documented provides an excellent starting point. It is now down to educators’ will and understanding of the importance of taste classes, whether or not the taste classes will become a staple in our schools.”

Smart and healthy kids

Tastes in food are formed in childhood. Children learn to eat a varied diet if they are allowed to train their sense of taste from a young age. Sitra’s Food and Nutrition Programme, ERA, tests various methods to promote health through nutrition. A wide-ranging knowledge about food will support the development of children into healthy adults. Finland is a leading country in the field of sensory food science. The teaching package now created will bring this knowledge to children also. Project Manager Markku Mikola from Sitra is aware that teachers have shown great interest in the taste classes. The experiment also showed that the food industry is an excellent partner for running taste classes. Mikola hopes that the handbook that is available to all and the ethos of Sitra’s ERA Programme – making Finland a model country of nutrition through collaboration – will help bring the taste classes to as many schools as possible.

Handbook for taste classes (in Finnish, PDF) »

For further information on the taste classes, please contact

University of Helsinki: Professor Sari Mustonen, tel. 358 9 191 58243, sari.mustonen@helsinki.fi

Sitra: Project Manager Markku Mikola, tel. 358 9 6189 9235, markku.mikola@sitra.fi

Sitra’s ERA Programme communications, Communication Specialist Seija Kurunmäki, tel. 358 400 460894, seija.kurunmaki@kuule.fi

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