“Back to basics” is a common theme throughout education and if we are to lay down foundations for teaching about food, the process is no different. The fundamental basis for educating children about nutrition has to begin with food and ensuring they understand the source; is it a plant or an animal? Where does it come from?
Large food companies and a growing population have increased the production of manufactured, processed foods and, as many families opt for more convenient choices, children are less exposed to real food. These changes have impacted significantly on children’s connection with food, which serves the very basis for understanding about healthy choices.
Many supermarkets have pledged support for farm to fork education, as current research highlights children’s confusion about the provenance of food, including believing pasta and cheese grow on trees. Though our farming and food production has changed considerably, there are many opportunities for exposing our children to farming techniques, which heighten their understanding and awareness of where food comes from.
Some opportunities to plan:
Grow your own – Children can grow their own food to eat during snack time. This can include cress, baby gem lettuces, carrots and tomatoes. These can be grown in containers, which don’t need vast amounts of space, and if children water regularly they can begin to understand the need for water and sunlight in the growing process.
Pick your own – Visit a “pick your own” farm, walk to a local orchard or an area with wild brambles. Children can then make smoothies and/or fruit salads from the fruit they have picked.
Community – Utilise the experience of the local community. You may have a local Britain in Bloom group in your region, farmers market or allotments. Even if the opportunity to visit is not possible, someone could come and share their experience of growing food and what they do with their harvest.
Local farms – Local farms may support a visit or a local farmer may visit you. Urban areas also have city farms and many farms have open days.
Domestic or Tropical – Snack time is a great opportunity to talk to the children about domestic and tropical fruits and trying different ones will also expand their taste buds and interest in food.
Talk seasonal – Incorporating seasonal fruit and vegetables into snack times and displaying monthly posters can be another way to expand children’s understanding of food and provides an opportunity to start talking about nutrients and what the body needs at different times of the year.
Composting – Recycling food waste from fruit and vegetables can also educate children about returning nutrients to the soil to support additional plant growth.
Providing children with a host of experiences about real food can help to lay the foundations for their understanding about where food actually comes from and how it gets to their plate. As this is now part of the National Curriculum foundations in early years education, it will serve as a great stepping-stone to Key Stage 1 and encourage their growing interest and understanding.