Real food has become a high priority in our lives. We want our children to understand the difference between food and food-like substances. We want them to choose real food. As a result, we’ve given much thought to integrating an appreciation for real food into our family’s culture. Below is a list of some thoughts we’ve compiled on ways to teach children about truly nourishing food. We’ve done each of these suggestions to some extent and our children are more knowledgeable about food than their peers, and even if they find a dish unappealing, are swayed to give it a try knowing that we would only serve them what is best for them. Though they still let us know they don’t like it!
Educate yourself first
We’ve watched, listened to, and read material by people whose goal it is to promote sustainability and real food. We scour these resources for ideas, inspirations, and tips. Having knowledge about the topic gives us plenty of material to offer curious children when a teachable moment presents itself.
When the atmosphere of a home includes books, magazines, podcasts, and videos about sustainability and food production, the children can’t help but pick up on the fact that this is something important to their parents. The print material is available for them to pick-up; they hear the audio played in the vehicle; and when suitable, watch how-to videos and vlogs. In our home, we all like to watch the vlogs from Abundant Permaculture because they show an entire family working together to raise their own food. I must confess, we share these vlogs with our children in the hopes of inspiring them to pitch in and help more.
Take advantage of teachable moments
Plenty of opportunities to discuss food come about when you go shopping with children! The list of possibilities is almost endless: why we choose not to buy a given product, why we choose non-GMO, why we buy the produce from the local market instead of the chain store, why we seek out and travel for certain items, why we buy in bulk and in-season and store or preserve the abundance.
An area in which we struggle in getting the message through is candy and chocolate. We’ve got a sweet tooth! For the most part, we are replacing refined white sugar with natural sweeteners and exploiting our local honey and maple syrup. But the purchased candies and chocolates still make their way into our home. The silver lining is that we have an opportunity to teach our children moderation and restraint. And to remind them that the only people to really gain from the consumption of that treat are those who profit from its sale.
Highlight the quality of the food you serve
Parents are notorious for telling their children what to do, but then doing the opposite themselves. Sharing a meal together is an opportunity to talk the talk AND walk the walk. Both parents and children are eating the same food and sharing in the benefits that food provides. So why not discuss it over the meal?
This could be the time you tell the children why you serve salmon (from a sustainable fishery, of course) instead of fish sticks. You can highlight what it is salmon provides to help growing minds and bodies. If nutritional science is something that interests you, tell them some more precise nutritional values of the food. At a minimum, you could acknowledge that you are eating real food, not food-like substances produced by the industrial food chain, and that you’ve chosen to serve it to them because it provides essential nutrition.
Grow something and eat it
I’ve heard it said before that growing your own food is a revolutionary act. By growing something to eat, a person learns to appreciate where their food comes from. For them, quality becomes important. When purchasing food, the story behind the food begins to have meaning and through his or her food choices, a person is gaining the power to influence the food culture for the better. Even though children likely won’t be buying their own food, if they can witness something nutritious being grown and then eat it themselves, they will have a memory of that taste as a benchmark to compare to in the future.
When we sit down to a meal we like to point out all the items which we produced ourselves that went into preparing that meal. “We’re eating our eggs, spinach, onions, and garlic in this omelette. Do you want a slice of homemade sourdough bread to go with it?” It has become a sort of game we play: how many things in this meal did we produce ourselves? The downside to this is realizing how much more you wish you could produce yourself. Like, a dairy cow, so you could spread your own butter on that piece of homemade sourdough toast?
Even better, have the children grow something and prepare it themselves
If children can experience for themselves the work that goes into growing something to eat, they are going to have a deeper appreciation for what it takes to produce food. They’ll also be more likely to try the dish prepared with the item, especially if they helped to make it. My daughters once surprised me with an experimental cake they called Max Cake with ingredients they kind of knew I used for baking. The result was edible, technically. They, however, thought it was amazing and ate far more than I was able to. I’m sure that if they did not make the cake themselves, they would have refused to eat it. Of course, a homegrown item would receive more care in its preparation and may even convert a finicky eater to “be willing to eat that vegetable again.”
In the end, the exercise of growing, preparing, and eating something they grew themselves should impress upon children the amount of work that goes into food production. Ideally, they would value the taste of fresh food and will want to try growing something again. Or, they will want to try cooking more dishes themselves and develop an appreciation for real food from the preparation angle. In the end, the hope would be that by putting children in contact with producing and preparing the food, they will inherit a deeper appreciation for the true cost of food.
Preserve in-season fruit and serve it during the off-season
Take advantage of the bounty when fruits are in season and put some up for the coming dearth. Peaches work well for this. When they arrive at the farmers market you can purchase them by the basketful. Involve the children in part of the process too, so they feel a sense of ownership. Opening those jars of peaches during February can be a cause for celebration. And the grocery store peach will pale in comparison forevermore. And that, my friend, is the whole point.
What do you do in your home to celebrate an appreciation for real food?
Rebecca Harrold homesteads and homeschools on a 23-acre property in rural Ontario, where she is engaged with all types of wiser living skills. She believes that restoring the land to its healthy, sustainable state will increase its resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the people who depend upon it. Connect with Rebecca at Harrold Country Home and on Instagram. Read all of Rebecca’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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