Moroccan chicken kebabs, couscous, lentil salad and vegetable tagine were items on the menu in Lakeside Dining Hall’s International station on Dec. 1, but the students who ate these foods weren’t the normal hungry, college bunch.

Twenty-five students from a fifth grade class at Elon Elementary were allowed to pile up as many as three plates of the exotic food as part of an out-of-class engagement program, sponsored by Elon Dining, called “Spice It Up.”

Created by Jack Davern, Elon Elementary’s principal, and Pulkit Vigg, resident district manager of Elon Dining, the program will be used as a way to introduce international foods to students as part of their global education curriculum.

The classes can come to campus and enjoy a complementary all-you-can-eat meal, tour the kitchens, talk with a dietitian and listen to the chefs about the ingredients and spices that go into their food.

After the tour, Elon Dining staff sat down with groups of the students and talked with them about their experience of eating a new food — challenging them to think beyond what they eat every day.

“I didn’t expect them to be so adventurous,” Vigg said.

The students also had access to the other options and treats in the dining hall, but most of the students were interested in tasting something new. Many of them even took second and third helpings of the Moroccan cuisine.

e best comment from the students was, ‘We don’t want to go back to class.’ They loved it.”

The original idea to bring the exotic new foods to the elementary school and to tie in the class’ global teachings, but United States  Department of Agricuture guidelines prohibited many of the spicy foods to be served in a public school setting. These regulations provide a narrow definition of what is allowed to be served, leading Vigg to invite the students to Elon’s campus.

He thought of it as an opportunity to strengthen the bond between the two institutions and participate in the kind of community building that Elon is committed to. Elon’s international station already produces worldly meals regularly, focusing on 32 different countries throughout 32 weeks.

Vigg also sees it as a way to expand the university’s reach beyond the campus while also expanding the worldview of the young students. Many of them had never had skewered chicken kebabs before, and were curious about the unique way to serve and eat chicken.

““At that point, it was an amazing educational moment for us to say, ‘Guys, the world is becoming small. You’ll travel as you grow up,’” Vigg said. “And when you go to another country, it’s awesome to know about the food before you already go.”

After a successful start, the program will continue with six more fifth grade classes throughout the next three weeks. Lakeside will also welcome classes of third and fourth graders during Winter Term.

“The exposure to cultures around the world is powerful,” said Davern. “I am looking forward to seeing how we could continue growing and bringing more emphasis to healthy eating, cultural learning and enhancing relationships within our school community.”