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Susan Taylor

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The Adventurous Produce Section

Posted: 03/23/11 06:12 PM ET

While some see a visit to the grocery store as an irritating chore, I see it -- especially the produce section -- as a constantly changing source of discovery. I've been a food writer for 20 years, so it's second nature to me to peruse food stores. But, discovering good food is something everyone likes to do. Especially kids -- even picky eaters.

When my son was in grade school, his teachers would always invite me to come to class to talk about food. So, I'd arrive with apples and teach kids to become "young food critics." One at a time, we'd taste and describe the attributes of four varieties of apples. Everyone got to choose a favorite and make a slinky apple from the hand-cranked apple corer machine I brought with me. A simple favorite apple was transformed into a magical edible toy. Years later, in high school, a classmate told my son that she discovered her favorite apple at that apple tasting in the third grade.

That conversation inspired me to think about how to teach kids how wonderful real food can be. Three years ago, I founded the Good Food Project in Chicago to introduce school kids to the world of delicious real food. I was surprised to discover that most kids think of apples as red or green. When they learn that there are thousands of varieties, each with a name and distinctive characteristics, they want to try them all!

Kids used to get "food lessons" when Moms took them shopping after school. Now many kids don't get that opportunity and don't know what good foods are actually out there. But there are fun activities you can plan together to change that. The next time you go to the grocery, take your child, stop in the produce aisle, and choose something to explore.

Did you know that all oranges are not orange inside? Some are pink and others red. Did you know that apples can be various combinations of sweet, tart, crisp, juicy, spicy, complex, bland, and aromatic? Did you know that for a few weeks in summer, blackberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, and blueberries are ripe at the same time? This short window of time gives you the chance to taste them one at a time, compare them, eat a bowl of your favorites, and then think of all the ways to use them to improve cereal, enliven salads, decorate main courses, and make smoothies.

In the past three years, thanks to donations by organizations and companies that have an interest in promoting real food, including the Michigan State Horticultural Society, K & K Farms, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Pepin Height Orchards, Rainier Fruit, Jewel-Osco, the Chicago French Market, the Michigan Cherry Committee, and others, we've been able to introduce more than 7,000 kids to new flavors of real fruit. This winter, with the support of Paramount Citrus (owners of Cuties), we expanded to include citrus tastings among our lessons. With this help, thousands more students in Chicago schools will become "young food critics!" When asked if they want to eat more apples, oranges, berries or whatever we're trying, kids resoundingly say yes. Real food tastes better than junk food. Just ask a kid.