Students had mixed reactions as they stuck their celery and carrots into the orange dip.

Some scrunched their faces. One student stuck his tongue out. The dip was made with garlic, which some students thought was spicy.

Others kept eating, liking the food they never had before.

Wednesday was Discovery Kitchen at Pettit Park Elementary. The monthly event organized by Chartwells, food service provider at Kokomo School Corporation, introduces elementary students to healthy foods they might not otherwise try.

The goal is to break the stigma that healthy foods are “yucky,” according to Bob Horan, director of dining services for Kokomo schools.

“We’re always trying to teach our kids to try healthy foods,” he said.

On the menu Wednesday was roasted red pepper hummus, made with lemon juice, black pepper, garlic, red peppers, garbanzo beans and canola oil.

“If you like it, awesome; if you don’t, that’s alright,” Jan Alvira, executive chef for Chartwells, told the students. Alvira made the hummus.

Fourth grader D.J. Rasmussen said there was too much garlic.

Kiara Booher wasn’t a fan, either.

“Never eat that. It’s very gross,” she said.

“The texture just gets me,” added Kenna Rayne.

It wasn’t all negative reviews, though.

The red pepper hummus found a new fan in Abby Gaunt, who had never had it before.

“It tastes so good,” she said.

Abby said she’d eat it again.

Alvira said responses from students are usually a 50-50 split. It’s a brand-new taste and texture for a lot of kids.

“You enhance something they’ve never had before,” he said. “That’s what makes it fun. You can see their faces.”

Principal Lyndsi Smith told students their taste buds will change as they get older, so if they didn’t like hummus on the first try, it might not always be that way.

“I didn’t like hummus the first time I tried it either,” she said.

Discovery Kitchen visits a different Kokomo elementary school each month. In November, students tried cranberry relish and sweet potato biscuits.

Students who like the new food can take home the recipe. Parents have enjoyed this aspect, according to Kokomo school officials.

The foods highlighted during Discovery Kitchen are available in the lunch line the following week.

Chartwells does a similar event with middle and high school students where they try different foods over the course of a few days. On the final day, students vote on their favorites, and whichever food wins is included at lunch.

“That really gives them a say in what they’re eating,” Horan said.

Kokomo schools contracted Chartwells as its food service provider last summer. The move to a third-party company came after the school district struggled with staffing shortages and supply chain challenges.

Partnering with Chartwells was expected to increase buying power and access to food.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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