By Chef Emily Peterson host of Sharp & Hot
There was a time when I put a lot of effort into knowing where every bite of my food came from. I took great pride and pleasure in walking through picturesque Brooklyn to the Grand Army Plaza Farmers Market on a warm April Saturday, talking over the mornings offerings or swapping recipes with Ray Bradley, a farmer down every weekend from Ulster County in upstate New York. Often I nibbled a ginger scone, sipped a fresh mint iced tea dispensed from an orange cooler for a dollar, my mesh Park Slope Food Co-op bag slung over the shoulder of my perfectly peasant-y dress. I was the picture of Urban Pastoral Bliss. Now, as I write this from my house in suburban New Jersey, my kid is smearing his hair with a sleeve soaked in canned pineapple juice and John Stamos yogurt.
Baby, things have changed.
It's not that I don't still take pleasure in knowing where my food comes from, I do! It's just that I have pair bonded with a small tyrant who, left too long in a stroller at a market (farmers or otherwise,) will attempt to remove his pants over his head and upon realizing it is not in fact possible, scream in frustration until every bystander under the tent takes note, mostly of me attempting to ignore him whilst selecting mushrooms.
Those days of knowing where each bite comes from have given way to the thrice daily routine of getting food into that kid -- plus snacks. Not to mention food into me and his dad, who now luxuriate in the idea of someday in the future when we can again eat dinner at the same time.
On the upside, not all has changed. Turns out, my kid is incredibly food motivated. From a safe perch on my arm, he is fascinated to stir some onions sautéing in a pan and use a stick to poke holes in the ground next to me when I'm sticking some pea seeds into a neglected and happily forgiving garden bed. He's excited to mirror the behaviors I was taught as a kid: to grow, to harvest, to cook.
But what if this experience isn't yours, but as a parent you wish you could teach your kid where their food comes from before it ends up at the grocery store? What if you don't know where to start? Enter the people behind two innovative, accessible initiatives designed to help adults get kids get excited about growing and cooking their own food.
First, Meredith Hill & Sarah Ohana public school teachers who have partnered with Organic Gardening Magazine to create Dig, Plant, Grow! A guide to Planning Your Own Garden Curriculum. Broken up into five easy to navigate sections, Dig, Plant, Grow! provides all the information necessary to start bringing up some basil, without any assumption that you the grownup remember your stamen from your sepal.
Once flower and fruit are in hand (either by your own cultivation or picked up at the farmers or supermarket) you can join the Kids Cook Monday project spearheaded by registered dietician Diana Rice at The Monday Campaigns and bring your kids (and maybe yourself) to the stove in a non-intimidating way. Recipes are categorized by age group and are 10-12 ingredients max. Kids Cook Monday provides responsibilities divvied up into "Adult," "Kid" and "Together" tasks as well as nutrition information for each finished dish, in case you want to compare your homemade black bean burritos to the ones aging in your icebox (hint: look at the sodium content first.) Kid-centric cooking videos and a brand new newsletter complete with pre-made shopping lists will keep little ones (and more importantly, you) motivated.
Parents: no one is expecting you to give up pouches and nibbly fingers. Believe me, I rely on them as much as the next guy to plug into a hungry face. But, my kid's got all this energy anyway -- he could poke holes in dirt for literally an hour, maybe more if he doesn't get distracted by a delicious earthworm or cicada larva. If I follow behind him with some basil seeds, just a clay pot in a sunny window becomes a focused activity to take up an hour. And on Mondays, another dedicated hour of preexisting kid energy focused in the kitchen making pesto and eating as a family. That's gotta be almost as fun as washing yogurt out of his hair, right?
To hear Meredith Hill and Diana Rice talking about their initiatives with me (@chefemilyp on twitter and instagram where I post pics of said adorable tyrant) listen to episode #28 of Sharp & Hot on Heritage Radio Network.