We don’t have any goats yet in Growing Warriors, but we have plenty of children and children-on-the-way. Inevitably, as we are having discussions in class or working on the gardens, our children become the center of discussion. Sometimes it is because they are not in perfect harmony, but often it is the day-to-day stuff of being a family.
When we broke ground on the new Berea Growing Warriors Veteran Garden, Mark Walden wielded the tiller away from the main growing space and cut a few strips of sod into beautiful handfuls of soil – just for the kids. We would plant sunflowers later, right now, it was more than enough to shovel and haul, create paths and hills. It took the children a good, long time to remember that anything else was going on, but when they looked up, adults were hauling lumber to build raised bed enclosures. They ran over and starting hauling wood – three kids to a board and a lot of weaving and giggling.
At the next work day, they played in the compost. No one had to tell them how to dig a cave, slide down the steepest side, or let the fine soil sift threw their fingers. And no one told them to start filling the wheelbarrow every time it was brought back for another load – but they did.
Children will do just what they see us doing. They won’t be perfect at first – neither were we (or are we now). Their individuals personalities will be demonstrated in how they mimic us, but imitate they will. So, do you eat your veggies with the same enthusiasm as you delve into chocolate cake? The topic of getting kids to eat the food that we are growing was thrown around quite a bit at the last work day – the stuff of families.
So first, kids are going to eat the food that is available to them and what they see others eating. Kids, like us, will have their preferences – even within our family, we’ve a child who inspects all food for little specs of spices and doesn’t use salt, and another who loves salsa and all things salty. Little children, though, can eat what they need without the emotional complexities of adult-eating. Put a variety of healthy foods on a small toddlers’ plate every day, and they will eat what they need. So we suggested to a family that grows a lot of greens, but hasn’t convinced their daughters to love salad – make a plate of a little of everything, a few greens, some carrot slices, a little cheese or egg, a few nuts, a few peas, but do not mix it together! Children can pick what they eat, usually will try everything, and it’s no extra work for you. At first we got plates returned to the kitchen counter with the “leaves” mostly untouched, but now the leaves are gone, and we are adding some stronger flavors: radishes, blue cheese, spicier greens.
Sometimes, the kids have healthier taste buds than adults. Although our 4 and 6 year-olds do not like cooked green beans – they will eat as many raw beans as I care to wash. So why not keep a couple handfuls out of the mess I’m putting in the skillet? I won’t prepare a special dish for a picky eater, but to not prepare a dish? O.K., and I might have a few of those raw green beans myself.
And why am I washing the beans? Kids will always eat more of something that they prepare – a four-year old can rinse veggies in a colander (finding a bug that hitchhiked from the garden is a bonus!), use a butter knife to cut many vegetables (I caught our four-year-old cutting the seeds out of a pepper he wanted for a snack), stir while you add ingredients – or vice versa, scoop out melon balls, shuck corn (you’ll probably need to go over it for remaining silk), and numerous other tasks that can, with a bit of patience, even save you prep time in the long run. And then, “Yum, I made this!” (Somehow, he didn’t notice me chopping every other vegetable, stirring over the hot stove, cleaning up mess after mess.)
If the children in your life are in public school, they are learning about food. They are learning pretty good things in health class – my first-grader was excited that she already knew foods that had protein in the them before they discussed it in class. At lunch, for rewards, and at parties they are learning that the health lessons don’t apply. Lest you think we don’t eat cupcakes at our house, I will tell you that we do. I want to enjoy sweets with my children though – and with the volume at school, there isn’t room in their diet to do so. In addition, dried pears from your lunchbox simply do not look as appealing as a processed item from someone else’s. This I understand. No matter how much our daughter loves, loves, loves her dried pears, teasing makes them taste a little bitter. So we took dried pears, yogurt and granola, yellow pepper strips, carrots, and strawberries in for Friday snack and challenged the students to try something new. She ended the year packing her own dried pears every day – and making some kids at the lunch table jealous.
We can build on what they are learning – talk about what these foods do for our bodies. There are few kids who don’t want to run faster, see better, be smarter, or be stronger. They have been given the ground work, so as we are eating the food from our garden, we can talk about specific ways foods help us grow. That same first grader looked at her strawberries and said, “These are double good for us. We have to exercise in the garden pulling all those weeds and picking the berries. Then they get inside of us and give energy and chemicals to keep us healthy.” Why yes, they are double good for us.
Finally, this food is really good. People in large cities pay premium prices for fresh, organic food produced on small farms – and here it is on our humble table – even fresher. It tastes wonderful. So we roll our eyes, sigh, and marvel aloud about the fresh-picked peas, sweet lettuce, and crisp cucumbers – maybe even more than we do when we eat chocolate cake. And we pretend not to notice when someone sneaks some extra kale.