How to educate our children about where their food comes from, even if you don’t have a home garden, chickens or shop only at farmers markets.
In a supermarket world full of pre-packaged food, we are raising our children with a disconnect between what they eat and where it comes from. To establish lifelong healthy eating habits, children need to understand what their food is, and what to do with it.
As a parent of two small children, it is of high importance to me to ensure they grow up having a healthy relationship with food. To know what their food looks like in its natural state and where it comes from. That might mean on the vine, in the ground, or from an animal.
A simple answer is to have a backyard garden with a few chickens. Which is a fantastic idea if that is an option for you. But what if you don’t have a backyard or are not a keen gardener? Chickens aren’t for everyone. There are many fun and effective ways to teach your children about their food and involve them in the process, without having a mini-farming project in your garden.
To get a bit deeper into this topic I sat down with Farmer Damian, a well-known Fremantle local who runs the Farm To Plate Education curriculum. Farmer Damien’s program assists students to understand where their food comes from. The program has three parts, running throughout their pre- and primary school education.
In Kindy and Pre-Kindy, the basics are covered, such as how sheep give us wool, meat and milk.
In years two to four, food production is discussed in greater detail. The children learn about local food production.
In years five and six, students gain a more advanced understanding of local food distribution systems, quarantine in Western Australia, climate change and how this impacts local agriculture.
Children having access to this type of education in school is a fantastic opportunity to repair the disconnect between our modern society and the food we eat. The majority of school-aged children today are the second, if not the third, generation of Australians removed from the food growth or production process.
As parents we can continue this relationship outside of the classroom and in the home. According to Farmer Damian there is a lot we can do.
Take your kids shopping
At the local grocer, supermarket, or anywhere you shop for food. Spend time in the fresh food section and show them what the vegetables look like before they are cut and bagged. Where available, show them what a whole chicken or fish looks like.
Involve children in meal prep and cooking
If your kids are anything like my three-year-old, the idea of combining flames and sharp objects is laughable at best, and downright dangerous at worst. There are a lot of ways to involve them in meal prep that does not put the household at risk. ‘Item placement’ works well for us. Our son places homemade pizza toppings like a champ, or at least those left after he feeds the rest to his little sister.
Commit to eating seasonal meals
One of the best ways to showcase local produce is to eat what is in season. Once a week try your local farmer’s market to source fresh produce.
Planterbox the garden
With your children, plant a small herb garden or mini veggie patch in a planter box. Give daily water tasks to kids, and as the plants mature, use them in the meal prep. Herbs grow quickly and I know my kids love to snack on the mint when playing outside.
Fruit and berry picking
What better way to learn and understand where food comes from than to pick your own. Kids love to pick fruit and berries directly from the vine, if you are lucky enough to have any of the fruit make it home, you can use it to create something together.
Visit a local farm, or consider a farm stay
Possibly the clearest way to connect abstract concepts like where milk comes from, is to see it in action. Milking cows, chickens laying eggs, these are all fantastic experiences children can have on a farm.
Having a positive relationship with food, and understanding where your food comes from and all of the circumstances that influence it, is a lifelong process. As parents, we have the opportunity to let programs like Farm To Plate Education take the lead, and we can use those learnings to support healthy dietary options in the home.