In an ideal world, my two children would be encouraged to join me in the kitchen as often as possible. At the mature age of 5, however, my son has other things on his mind many evenings and my 18-month-old, well, let’s just say she hasn’t yet been quite as helpful as she imagines she is. Sometimes the added chaos of kids in the kitchen is the last thing you need in the mad dash to get dinner on the table. But the good news is that kids can be involved in other ways – helping shop for ingredients or offering suggestions for the week’s meal plan, for example.
We’ve spent the past five years doing our best to eat real foods, good for growing bodies and for our environment. I thought I was doing all the right things to make my son aware of where his food came from – growing peas in our own backyard, feeding calves on the dairy farm whose milk we buy, routinely visiting the farmers market and letting him unpack the weekly bag from our CSA farm. But I recently realized I hadn’t ever taken the time to explain why we eat that way.
And so I found myself having The Talk with my now five-year-old. Yes, the one about the birds and the bees….and what pesticides do to them. We needed to pick up some groceries and he wanted to go to the store that offers free cookies. I explained that I preferred a different store because it had better fruits and vegetables. “But Mom,” he said, exasperated, “[the other store] has bananas too.”
While we eat organic and local as often as possible, I’ve tried to be someone flexible as well. We occasionally buy snacks or eat take-out meals that are, well, less than perfect. So I took a moment to think about how best to explain our eating choices without demonizing the alternatives. Nature-conscious as he is, though, he connected his own dots about how the use of some chemicals can be bad for the birds and other animals that live around farms, and that they might wind up in rivers and the oceans too.
This fall, my son’s kindergarten class had the chance to take a field trip to a children’s farm. The trip was nice, but then he brought home an industry-sponsored coloring book called the “ABCs of Farming.” Cute, right? Upon closer examination, I discovered that it doesn’t exactly present farming in the sustainable sense that I would prefer. Imagine my surprise when he finished a page and then turned to me to ask, “Mommy, do you like my chemicals?”
Clearly, the conversation about our family food choices is only just beginning. Fortunately, we have established the routines of shopping our farmers market and sitting down together for dinner most nights to provide us plenty of opportunity to have those conversations.
Colleen Levine is a mom of two young children who squeezes in trips to the farmers market between t-ball games and music lessons. She blogs about raising foodies on real food at FoodieTots.com. You can also find her on Facebook or Twitter (@foodietots).