Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Teaching Children Healthy Habits

Photos courtesy of
John Granen Photography
Can you hear it? The wind of change is rustling the branches of the apple trees and garlic shoots in backyards across America. Our county is thinking seriously about the connection between living well and eating well. If you aren’t convinced that this phenomenon is indeed a national one, look no further than the White House. At the helm of the movement is Michelle Obama who is educating the nation about childhood obesity with her Let’s Move! Campaign and getting her hands dirty the White House garden. The New York Times is running articles about the Permaculture movement, organizations like Family Eats and Oldways are going full steam ahead, and Edible Schoolyards are popping up in elementary schools across the nation.

New ideas are fluttering and buzzing through America’s cultural consciousness like so many brightly colored butterflies and busy bumblebees. As promising as all of this is, how do we net these ideas and transform them into action in our daily lives? It’s not hard at all. There are any number of (figurative) seeds you can plant to help this movement grow, many of which can involve your children.  

Bring Your Kids to the Farmer's Market
Teach your children that produce doesn’t grow in the supermarket. To really drive that point home, have your children talk to the farmers. These individuals are not only food cultivators; they can also function as teacher for city kids whose experience with gardens may be limited to the 2nd grade field trip to a farm or the county fair.

Take a Field Trip to a “Pick Your Own Berries” Farm
Small farming communities exist an hour or so away from many large urban centers. Make a day trip to one of these regions and spend an afternoon harvesting blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries with your children. Go home and bake a pie, or cook up a batch of preserves. Outings like these help our children develop a more meaningful connection to the food they eat.

Plant a Garden
It’s not too late! If you don’t have a yard with space to garden, consider container gardening on a terrace or a windowsill. Buy semi-mature vegetable plants and herbs at your local nursery, or even at the drugstore. Now is the perfect time to start planning your fall/winter garden. Look up which crops grow well in your area and are good to plant for the fall and winter. Gardening with children and watching plants grow together can be a great delight and invaluable bonding activity.

Have Healthy Snacks On Hand
During the summer months when school’s out, stock your fridge and pantry with healthy snacks for hungry kids. Kids especially love crunchy foods—carrots, celery, apples, cucumbers, and snap peas can be big hits—especially when paired with hummus or a creamy yogurt dip. Salted nuts and seeds are great for satisfying a salt craving. Take advantage of the summer bounty and introduce your children to nature’s candy—peaches, berries, plums, apricots, and all the delicious hybrids under the sun. You can even puree these with yogurt and a little honey and turn them into ice pops for hot days. 

Teach Kids to Cook
Introduce a few healthy recipes featuring fresh produce as a fun summer activity. Hummus is an easy, quick recipe, as are smoothies. Involving your kids in cooking is another great bonding activity. I remember “cooking” with my mother when I was a very little girl, and how the thrill of being fed little nibbles of raw vegetables with a grind of sea salt even made raw cauliflower seem like a Big Treat.

Incorporate Veggies into Tasteful Meals
Trick little ones into eating their vegetables! Well-seasoned veggie stir-frys, summer pastas with sautéed vegetables, and fruit salads are wonderful ways to introduce fruits and vegetables to picky eaters.

Fruit is in the trees, vegetables are on the vine, and change is in the air. Summer is here. The time is ripe for you and your children to reap the benefits.

Here are a few recipes to help get you started.

Yogurt Dip
3 cups whole-milk yogurt
1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey

Drain yogurt in a paper-towel-lined sieve set over a bowl, chilled, 3 hours.
Pulse all ingredients in a blender until mint is finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and chill, covered, at least 3 hours.

Makes about 1 cup of hummus

1 cup canned chickpeas
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Cucumber, sliced
Cherry tomatoes, quartered 
Carrot sticks

Process the garlic in the food processor until it's minced. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and pulse until the hummus is coarsely pureed. Taste, for seasoning, and serve chilled or at room temperature with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots for dipping.


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