For some of us, getting the kids to eat is a herculean task. We usually give up and resort to pizza or mac and cheese because at least that’s something, right?
Not to chide, but it’s not. Children in the US are suffering from diseases that are a direct result of poor nutrition. In 2014, an estimated 29.1 million Americans had diabetes.
The slow food movement is a response to commercial, artificial, mass-produced food that has wrecked havoc on our nation’s health and even our sensibilities. Drive-thrus and TV dinners have diminished the value of cooking and eating together as a family. And corporate groceries have replaced the ancient tradition of meeting in the town center to buy and sell surplus. The farmers market trend hopes to counteract the side effects of big agriculture and big business, and communities nationwide have responded with enthusiasm.
In 2013, there were over 8,000 local growers markets nationwide.1
What does that mean for kids? A whole new way of eating. Actually, more of a return to the old way.
Alice Waters is the proprietor of the famous Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, CA, and is often credited with spearheading the slow food movement in the US. Beyond her Michelin Stars, she is also responsible for the Edible Schoolyard Project, which provides children from kindergarten to eighth grade with a culinary education. Kids not only get to an introduction to the diverse bounty of fruits and veggies, they also plant and cultivate and prepare meals.
Check out what the kids at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School are doing as part of the Edible Schoolyard:
Waters started the project because she was acutely aware that most school age children don’t know that a potato makes a french fry. She understood that food presents children with all kinds of learning opportunities: math, history, science and geography are all woven into agriculture. The program doesn’t place so much emphasis on cooking and farming as a vocation, but rather uses food as a touchstone to explore other subjects.
Working with plants and preparing food is a full sensory experience that introduces smells, textures and flavors. The more exposure children receive, the more likely they are to try new things, to experiment with tastes, and to think of cooking as a basic skill when they participate in planting and harvesting. Plus, they get to be outside and interact with community.
Some tips for broadening your child’s palette:
- Give them a little spending cash and let them pick out one favorite thing and one thing they have never tried.
- Try fresh fruit that they can help blend with yogurt and make into popsicles.
- Encourage them to ask questions; farmers love to talk about their products.
- Get recipes. Farmers are veritable wellsprings of information on how to prepare tasty meals with their ingredients. Ask them how they cook their food.
- Pick a few of your kids’ favorite meals and incorporate fresh produce.
- Enforce the “No Thank You” bite. They only get to refuse it after they have tasted it.
- Keep trying. Pediatricians say that kids need to be exposed to a food up to 20 times before they will eat it. Parents often give up after one or two tries.
- Try different colors.
- Don’t make it into an issue. Sometimes insisting will backfire.
- Enjoy it yourself. Sometimes a little peer pressure goes a long way. When the rest of the family is clearly enjoying themselves, kids want to get in on the action.
For busy families, making the shift from processed, pre-made food can seem like a hassle, but there are so many advantages to visiting your local farmers market, and many of them are fun! Not only are you doing something together, you are interacting with your community, supporting local agriculture and ensuring your family gets their vitamins.