As busy, over-worked and time-pressured parents it’s easy to leave our children without the knowledge they need to make sustainable and healthy food choices. Yet when everything comes from ‘The Supermarket’ and we have fast food advertising campaigns spending millions encouraging them to eat salty, fatty, processed junk, we have to teach children where their food comes from in order to protect their health and our environment.
It goes without saying that we want the best for our children, so we spend time teaching them how to cross the road and brush their teeth, but many parents neglect teaching their kids about food. A recent British Nutritional Foundation study found children who thought pasta came from an animal, fish fingers were chicken and plenty who didn’t know carrots and potatoes are grown in the soil. On a personal note, some children at my son’s school didn’t know milk came from cows and I was mortified. How do you get to eight years old and not know that?
Hands up, I’m guilty of the beige freezer dinner or ready meal after a bad day too – far be it from me to criticise a busy parent’s choice. But the point is valid no matter how busy we are; food education is an essential tool that keeps our children safe.
Why It’s Important to Teach Children Where Their Food Comes From
There are many reasons why children need to understand food and here’s a few:
Child obesity is rampant worldwide. The World Health Organisation reports that globally 42 million children under five are overweight, and type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children of all ages. Poor food choices among children have become a major concern to scientists and health experts.
Getting outside is essential for your child’s mental health. Growing vegetables can help your child stay calm, improve their motor skills and boost their interest in learning. Growing vegetables on the iPad game doesn’t count, I’m afraid.
Increases in the global population and life expectancy mean we’re using up more resources than ever. The environmental impact of the food industry is huge, so if we want a life-sustaining planet left for our children to live on we need them to understand that resources such as food are not infinite and they come at a cost.
Fast food outlets are constantly on the prowl, promoting a cool ‘I’m lovin’ it’ lifestyle in the form of a nutrition-free gristle burger, often using cute cartoons and toys to entice kids. McDonald’s alone spent $963 million on advertising last year. We can’t have our children learning about food from them.
How to Teach Your Child About the Reality of Food
On the whole we know our children have to understand food and make good healthy choices, but how do we actually go about it?
Visiting farmers markets to choose locally produced healthy foods, picking your own at a farm and growing your own at home are all great ways to introduce and establish a healthy food relationship. Too many children have no idea vegetables are grown from seeds, but at my school they cotton on quickly and enjoy growing easy veggies such as pumpkins, courgettes, tomatoes, runner beans and herbs.
If your child is old enough to ask what they are eating they deserve to know. Brushing what a ready meal lasagne is made from under the carpet when a kid questions it isn’t fair. You don’t need to go into the details of the meat industry but explaining it’s meat with added sugar and salt and therefore only for an occasional dinner is important.
Teach Them How Their Bodies Work
To understand food, children need to understand their bodies, and how vitamins and minerals work as fuel. I have a game where my son picks a food on his plate and we talk about what’s in it. Cheese for example – it’s made from milk and milk is made by cows. It has calcium and that makes strong bones. Yogurt is also milk and therefore calcium. And chocolate? Well, it tastes nice but it’s made from sugar and fat. Eat small bits or you won’t be able to run fast.
We tell our kids that lying is bad and then they watch TV and discover advertising! Despite recent promotion of healthier choices, fast food is not good for you, so how do we explain advertising? This is tricky so perhaps it’s best to offer an alternative option such as how fruit is healthy, but fried chicken is made using a lot of fat. Yes, it tastes good (arguably) but that’s the limit of its ‘powers’.
Why Don’t Schools Do It?
Good point – and I feel schools really ought to teach more about food, but there are no dedicated teachers that explain food and health as part of a government-led curriculum. Your child probably won’t learn basic skills such as how to manage money, cook or check the car oil at school either, but that’s a whole other article!
Education Is Key
A friend’s birthday party at Pizza Hut, piles of chocolate at the in-laws, and the dreaded Maccy D Happy Meal promotion – it all means we’re up against it, that’s for sure. But it’s important to teach your child about food to protect their health and make our planet more sustainable. Kids naturally have enquiring minds. Armed with the information they need to make good choices, you might be surprised at what they will eat.