Mellow Mummy: Teaching Children the Origins of Food : Taking life as it comes...

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Teaching Children the Origins of Food

This year I resolved to teach Lara to cook. I'm passing on my passing for food and it is important for me that Lara understands, from an early age, where the food on her plate comes from. By that, I mean more than that learning to cook will teach Lara that food doesn't magically appear on a plate. Further to that, I want her to understand the origins of her food so that she can make informed choices about what she eats and can really learn to enjoy food and drink as she grows older.

Learning about the origins of food starts at home. Last year Lara learned how to grow potatoes with me. This year, with a new garden, we're still planting in tubs and pots but we're taking on a few more challenges. Lara helps me at every stage. From the planting of the seeds to the potting out. She especially loves the daily trip around the garden to check on all of our crops (I used to have a cat who enjoyed the same walk with me!). Lara is an expert at watering and will regularly be spotted on my Dad's gardening blog with a watering can in hand.

But gardening isn't just about the fun. It's about understanding and sharing the hard work that goes into preparing food. I know, by the way that Lara dotes on her Grandpa, that she values the passion and effort that goes into growing fruit and vegetables. I'm hoping that by spending the time and effort herself to grow tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, lettuce, runner beans, dwarf beans, courgettes, physalis, chillis, thyme, parsely, rosemary, chives, corriander, oregano, bay and much more, that Lara will stop and think about all of the food that she eats, not just the food she grows; That she will question the origins of the fruit and vegetables she eats on a daily basis (i.e. the ones we buy from the supermarket) and will savour the flavour that little bit more. I'm also hoping that by getting involved in the growing of herbs and vegetables, that she'll be adventurous enough to try a wide range of foods, knowing that she, her mum, or her Grandpa grew them.

Beyond the vegetable patch, I want to educate Lara about meat and fish – something I can't yet do in my own back garden! We are lucky enough to live within a very short drive of two or three meat-producing farms. The meat is awesomely tasty (but at a price). I've taken Lara with me several times to the butcheries and farmyards so that she can see the animals in all of the forms. It doesn't scare me to show Lara farm animals in a setting that is so obviously geared towards their consumption. I know this will upset some strongly-willed vegetarians but on a farmyard, the animals are bred for food. Lara has seen the pigs, ducks, chickens and cows in the fields enjoying their lives. She has seen them sliced and ready to cook in the butcheries. I think she gets that now. It is OK to enjoy seeing, touching and admiring farm animals at the same time as appreciating the meat that they will eventually give us.

Last week when we took Lara to the farm, they had just received a delivery of day-old chicks. Small, yellow, fluffy, cheepy and INCREDIBLY cute. Lara's response when she saw them was “yum, yum”. It freaked me out when she first said it (it was a little sinister, I'll admit). But, when I thought about it, her reaction made sense. Lara enjoys food. Chicken means food to her, and very little else. I think she is a little young to understand right now, but hopefully one day she will appreciate the fact that those chicks she saw were about to live a far more enjoyable life and be treated with so much more love and attention than most livestock or poultry in Britain that is bred for our dinner tables.

So how about you, do your children understand where the food on their plates came from?
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