I’ve long advocated for gardening with kids, not only to connect children closer with nature but to improve their diet. Food for Life Partnership, “a network of schools and communities across England committed to transforming food culture,” agrees. The Telegraph reports:
Emma Noble, director of the Food for Life Partnership, said: “It is possible to transform school food culture and to increase school meal take-up at the same time when young people’s views are listened to and school meal changes are supported by practical food education like learning to cook, growing food and visiting farms to learn where food actually comes from.”
Every school should have a garden; every child should be involved in growing food. Food for Life Partnership works with 1500 schools across England to “change their school dinners with freshly prepared local, seasonal and organic ingredients.” The group is getting amazing results, with participation in school meals growing from 30 to 400 children at one of the partner schools “bucking” the national trend of “surprisingly low” involvement in healthy school meals.
The UK government has been working to improve school meals, and in 2006 banned junk food from vending machines and salt from lunch tables. New regulations required two servings of fruits and vegetables, but children balked by eating less school lunches. Food advocates found children were turned off by “prison-style” trays and found if schools served lunches on real china plates with real silverware, children found the meals more appealing. Schools secretary Ed Balls explains:
Pupils are proper paying customers – and the best way of keeping 11-year-olds eating at school is to treat them like that. Lunch should be a social occasion and children need a good dining experience in their first few weeks of secondary school or else they may never come back.
In my preschool, we do use plastic plates for eating, but we do use real silverware. We do have real china plates in our dramatic play area, as I believe young children can learn about fragility and responsibility at an early age. We also serve meals “family style”, in which children serve themselves and pass the food around to the next person. If three-year-olds can do it, school age children deserve the same respect. I have a hunch lunch time conversations would become more civilized as a result of making the meal more civilized.
Starting a school garden in the winter can be challenging, whether for home school or public education; however, there are a few things you can do right now. Sprouts are easy to sprout in the kitchen, and kid’s sprout kits make it fun and easy. It’s also a good time to start those tomatoes inside for spring transplanting, if you want big plants that fruit early!
Involving children in growing and preparing food, as well as using real plates and cutlery are simple, old ideas that make children eat better and live healthier lives. These practices establish lifelong habits that will carry on from generation to generation.