As adults, we are conscious of the importance of choosing fresh, nutritious foods. But kids today are frequently bombarded with ads for foods loaded with sugar, chemicals, and unhealthy fats. However, when children understand where food comes from, they can develop healthy habits.
What is the best approach to teach kids about farm-fresh foods and proper eating habits? It’s up to us adults to show them that food doesn’t magically appear in the grocery store but originates on farms, orchards, and pastures. Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, or teacher, you can help the children in your life learn to make smart choices about what they eat with experiential learning.
What is experiential or hands-on learning? First published in 1984, David Kolb’s experiential learning theory showed that first-hand experiences teach students to apply concepts they’ve learned immediately, providing practical real-world experience. This is easily applied to showing kids how to make healthy food choices with experiences like field trips, gardening, and hands-on cooking.
Start With a Field Trip
Children are keen observers of their environment so the best way to get them started is by taking a few field trips. Here’s how:
Engage kids with trips to the market armed with a variety of grocery learning activities. Be sure to bring your grocery list, either written or with images of what you’ll buy for younger children. Learning experiences can include how to select produce, purchase, food and be a courteous shopper as well – perfect for both homeschooled and traditional students!
Show them how stores are laid out, with fresh foods on the outer aisles and packaged foods inside. You can do a scavenger hunt, word identification, and even teach them the difference between fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Kids also get a kick out of looking at seafood displays so you can play a game identifying the different kinds of fish.
Local Farmers Markets
Even if you don’t normally shop at a local farmers’ market, these venues are a great learning opportunity. Kids can talk to farmers and vendors to learn about their products, farms, and suppliers. They may even get to sample nutritious foods for free!
Some vendors can help kids learn about flexible ways to use produce. For example, a vendor who sells goat milk may also have products made with goat milk, like soap or lotion. That can lay the groundwork for teaching concepts like manufacturing and zero-waste.
Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow offers bi-weekly food and farming related children’s activities presented by Spring Garden Waldorf School and Old Trail School.
One of the best ways to teach children about farm-fresh food is to visit the places where it is grown or raised. Farms, pastures, beehives, and other such places show kids what happens before our food gets to the store. Some farms even host “workdays,” where students and families can volunteer to do work like planting, feeding animals, or tilling soil.
Kids also enjoy events like harvest activities, where they can pick their own apples or pumpkins to bring home.
The Countryside Initiative farms offer a variety of different on farm experiences perfect for kids, like berry picking. Click here to learn more about what each of the farms has to offer.
Grow a Garden
After a field trip, it’s time to go a bit deeper with an experiential learning task like gardening. They’ll discover how a seed becomes a plant, how plants provide food, learn about photosynthesis and the growth cycle, just to name a few! They’ll also understand the benefits of sunshine, water, and healthy soil as well as caring for the environment.
If you’re hesitant because you think you have a “brown thumb,” start with plants that are easy to grow – and learn alongside the kids you’re teaching! Spend some time learning the basics by getting started with gardening in your own yard. And if you make a mistake, that’s a great opportunity for teaching kids about the power of not giving up!
Encouraging Good Food Choices
Kids can learn to make healthy food choices. Encourage them to “eat the rainbow” every day by choosing fruits, vegetables, and legumes that complete the colors. Promote good dietary options, like plant-based proteins, limiting sweets, and choosing chicken and fish more often than red meats.
Show a child how to include enough variety in their meals by teaching them to write a meal plan for the week that includes using leftovers. That will encourage them to learn to cook with zero waste. Kids can use their imaginations to come up with fun and delicious ways to ensure that none of the food in their kitchen goes to waste – or that too much goes to their waist!
Don’t forget to show kids how to make healthy choices at parties and other kid-friendly events that are full of junk food options. Don’t spend too much time telling them “no” to every choice. Instead, encourage them to limit themselves to one sugary treat, like a slice of birthday cake, to savor it.
Use strategies that reduce their hunger before the event, like feeding them a nutrient-dense plant-based meal beforehand. Have them focus on the fun party activities and mingling with friends, rather than on the food, by taking photos and making memories.
The Next Step: Teaching Kids About Wellness
When kids understand healthy food choices, they can also learn all the benefits of a holistic lifestyle. Exercise, positivity, and caring for the environment are just some of the other areas of health and wellness that you can foster in children. For example, families can work together to create a healthy atmosphere by gardening, cooking, and eating the fruits of their labor together.
Kids learn from what they see, so it’s always wise to lead by example. If you want them to make healthy food and lifestyle choices, you must do the same for yourself. Don’t consider their education separate from your own, but part of what you can do together, whether it is inside your home or your classroom.