Kids in the US get an average of just 3.4 hours of food and nutrition education in elementary schools each year and many kids are so out of touch with what’s on their plate that they think real food comes in a box. This is one of the many reasons that all of us here at The Food School hope to bring hands-on food education back to today’s kids through our Schools-to-Farms Initiative, in-school visits, and public classes and events.
As a parent, you might be wondering: Can I help connect my kids to real food at home? What’s the easiest way to start? We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t require special training, huge diet changes, or bribes to get your little ones interested in the story of real food. You can begin your new food adventures with a field trip to your local farmers market! Markets provide you and your family with wholesome, healthy foods and support local farmers at the same time. The reality is: family farmers need our support! Large agribusiness dominates food production in the U.S. today, and small family farms have a hard time competing in the food marketplace. Buying directly from farmers gives them a better return for their produce and a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy.
Health-wise, you’ll be doing your family a great favor by investing in fresh produce grown close to home. Much of the food found in grocery stores is highly processed and grown using pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetic modification (GMOs). Some of it has been irradiated, waxed, or gassed in transit. These practices may have negative effects on human health. In contrast, most food found at the farmers market is minimally processed, and many of our farmers go to great lengths to grow the most nutritious produce possible by using sustainable techniques, picking produce right before the market, and growing heirloom varieties. (Make sure to ask each farmer about their growing practices. We’ve found that most sustainable farmers enjoy talking about their love for the soil and the great lengths they go to produce healthy, pesticide free food!)
Here are ten reasons that a field trip to your local farmers market will help you connect your children to food and the people who grow it.
1. Develop healthy emotional eating habits.
One of the biggest myths about emotional eating is that it’s prompted by negative feelings. Yes, people often turn to food when they’re stressed out, lonely, sad, anxious, or bored. But emotional eating can be linked to positive feelings too! It’s no accident that McDonald’s named their kids deal a “Happy Meal”! They do this to form a lifelong emotional bond between being happy and eating at McD’s, and it works! You can beat the fast food marketing guru’s at their own game. Simply swap out the fast food and replace it with a fun day at the Farmers Market! Do this on a regular basis and your kids will start to equate healthy real food with those happy family days at the market.
2. Connect kids with “real food”
There is a huge disconnect between most Americans and their food. For the most part, we’ve stopped questioning where our food comes from, how it is raised and if it is good for our health. To a large extent, this is why our supermarkets shelves are lined with so many boxes of processed junk. We can break that cycle with our kids and the Farmers Market provides a great opportunity to further the food connection discussion. It’s much more effective when you practice what you preach. Buying from local sustainable farmers reinforces the message.
3. Talk with real farmers
As you know, kids are naturally curious. This is a good match because farming is really amazing. Think about it: plant seeds in dirt, add water, get vegetables! Of course there’s a lot more to it than that. As we mentioned above, a lot of the farmers we meet are very proud of the work they do and they’re very happy to talk about it. With a little coaching (if necessary) you’re kids can ask some great questions, like- Why are you a farmer? What’s your favorite things to grow? What’s that hardest thing to grow? The easiest? Do you use chemicals or pesticides? Why, or why not? A cool side-effect of this is that the next time you go to the market your kids will remember the farmers. It’s great to make new friends, especially when their doing something as important as growing your food.
4. Let them buy their own food
Depending on your kids age(s), give them a few bucks to buy some of their own food to bring home. This in itself is a great learning experience. Will they think long and hard about what to buy? Or will they buy the first thing they see? Learning to shop wisely and consider all the options is a great skill to have. And let’s be honest, if we really want to teach our kids about the value of real food, they should know how to shop for it!
PS- If you have young kids, instead of actually shopping maybe you can just let them give the money to a farmer. Little kids (and the farmer) will probably enjoy this!
5. Cook the food you bought at home
Getting kids involved in cooking is great. With basic cooking skills under their belts, there is less need to buy ready made, highly processed foods. But it’s not always easy. Cooking the food you just bought, or the food THEY just bought if you followed the step above, makes this a whole lot easier. It’s the next logical step- “We bought these veggies from the nice farmer, now we get to cook them!”
For snack ideas, check this out: Quick Clean Eating: 40 Non-Processed Snacks for Busy Moms!
6. Introduce new foods to your children
Face it, some kids are just picky eaters. The 3 steps above may have a profound effect on their willingness to even TRY something new, right? Let’s go through this- We met the farmer, learned about how they grew this, we bought it, we took it home and now we cooked it. It’s just natural to want to taste it!
7. Learn about nutrition
For older kids, the Farmers Market provides an opportunity to learn about nutrition and why real foods are so important to maintain a healthy body. If your kids compete in sports, you can teach them why nutrients will make them better athletes. Even if they don’t play sports they can understand that real food is packed with vitamins and minerals that make them stronger, smarter and healthier. Additionally you’ll be able to choose non-GMO foods and support non-GMO farmers.
8. Get away from the screens
TV screens, computer screens, iPad screens, phone screens- ARghhhh! Yes, I know you are reading this on a screen (unless somebody printed it for you). Screens are awesome but they have their time and place. Food has a huge impact on childhood obesity but many children are simply sedentary too many hours per day. Do we really have to watch Lion King one more time? The Farmers Market is a great excuse to bust away from the TV, or Xbox or Facebook, Instagram, – whatever, and get some fresh air.
9. Family bonding
A trip to the Farmers Market provides a great way to spend time together as a family. It’s easy to enjoy each other’s company when you’re doing something healthy. With little kids, play fun games like finding food that’s different colors or shapes. With older kids, try a scavenger hunt and offer a family prize if the goal is achieved. It may take a little work (and a prize or two) but the market can be a fun family outing. Who knows, you may end up creating fond memories that your kids will never forget, carry with them, and perhaps even pass on to their own children. How great would that be!
10. Teach the importance of community
The growing number of farmers markets in the United States gives us hope. They serve not only as a way for people to purchase local food but also as a chance for them to connect with other people in their communities. Buying local promotes a sense of pride in your hometown. Farmers markets allow you to teach your kids that they can make a difference by voting with their dollars. When you shop at a large grocery store chain, a fraction of your dollars stay local. Supporting local farmers keeps the money in your community where it can be reinvested for the good of the town. Ready to find some farmers markets? Visit this wonderful blog about farmers markets in our area: