When asked where their food comes from, kindergartners and first graders at Crown Point’s Lake Street Elementary had this to say:
Peanut butter… “comes from peanuts plants crushed up with water.”
Fruit roll-ups… “are frozen fruit punch.”
Noodles… “come from cans.”
Chocolate milk… “comes from farm cows… brown farm cows.”
Parents have a definite challenge when it comes to teaching their children where food comes from! Yet, a key to healthy eating and establishing good food habits for a lifetime is teaching your children about food at an early age. The more they know now, the better choices they can make later.
Leann Landgrebe Pelzel, farmer and owner of Crème de la Crop a USDA Certified Organic Farm in Valparaiso, noted in the not too distant past, families had a much stronger – and healthier – connection with their food, “Farmers only saved the seeds from produce they enjoyed most – the best and most hardy. They did this so their family could have abundant crops for the next season. These seeds produced the most appealing fruit and vegetables to both the eye and palate.”
While it’s important to teach our children how to read nutrition labels, it should be just as important to teach them how to select the best carrots; why choosing fruit that is in-season makes a difference; and how to consciously buy food with an awareness of how far it has traveled to get to us.
Pelzel is making a difference on her farm with programs where parents (and anyone) can come out and volunteer their time.
“Parents supervise the kids who receive a rewarding experience working directly with us planting, maintaining and harvesting the crops," Pelzel said. "We have had many children pull up carrots, for example, and eat them right from the soil saying this is the best carrot I have tasted as they dance around in joy. We at Crème de la Crop love working with children and want more parents to come out and volunteer with them. Our programs encourage parent and children interaction as well as education for all.“
Establishing a connection between kids and their food
Visit farmer’s markets: Area farmer’s markets start opening in June. Wandering among those booths is an excellent (and delicious) teaching opportunity. Talk to farmers and show your kids the bushels of fruit and vegetables – note how the offerings change over the summer. A trip to the farmer’s market is a great way to help kids make the connection from farm to table.
Start your own garden: Whether you have a plot of dirt or a few containers, you can grow your own herbs and vegetables at home. Your local library has resources to help you get started.
Visit local farms: Like the volunteer program at Crème de la Crop, area farms can be an excellent way to literally show your kids where some of their favorite foods come from. County Line Orchard in Hobart has apples starting in late summer and pumpkins in the fall. Fair Oaks Farm in Fair Oaks shows kids where milk, cheese and ice cream comes from.
Don’t forget to make a hands-on connection in the kitchen too
Once your children get closer to their food they are usually eager to take part in preparing that food for meals. Children of all ages can help in the kitchen and take pride in serving their family healthy food that they helped make. Preschoolers can add a pinch of a “secret ingredient,” help measure ingredients, or stir things together in a bowl. Children ages 6-8 can be of more help by using a grater or vegetable peeler. Older children can chop, stir and cook under supervision. Your children might surprise you with their kitchen skills – and their willingness to try new things that they helped prepare might surprise you too.