You can give kids some locally grown carrots, but if you teach them why sustainable food practices are important, you’ll be supplying them with a lifetime of healthy choices that will benefit the planet. Lessons like the importance of healthy eating and sustainable practices aren’t easy concepts to impart on kids, but when you make learning hands-on and fun, it’s much more relatable. As a mom and a Girl Scout leader, I’ve discovered ways to share these ideas with kids—here are a few easy actions you can take to teach your own local youth communities.
Start a Community Garden
One of my absolute favorite things about my daughter’s elementary school is our garden. In a shaded corner of our playground sits an organic garden that grows fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and this year the school has added a chicken yard. By helping to grow their own fruits and vegetables, from planting seeds to picking and even selling fresh produce at a weekly farmers’ market, the kids learn every step that goes into bringing food from the farm to the table. This knowledge gives them an understanding of how hard it is to grow food and why sustainable food practices are so important.
Look for a space that is underutilized in your community to see what steps you can take to transform it into a working garden. Invite the youth group you’re working with to assist with the effort, from planning how the space will be used and prepping the soil, to planting and tending to the garden on a regular basis.
Learn About the Butterflies and the Bees
Bees and butterflies are a critical component to maintaining a sustainable food supply. If possible, teach your youth group about the role of bees with a trip to a local honey farm. Once the kids have learned how important pollinators are to growing food, teach them how to support the ecological system by planting wildflowers that bees and butterflies need to thrive. With our Girl Scout troop last year, we made planters out of recycled bottles and planted a bee-friendly wildflower mixture to be transplanted into the girls’ backyards.
Another fun way to spread sustainability across your entire community is by having kids make and distribute seed bombs. Make it a fun activity to sit down and create ones like these from Gardenista at a youth meeting; then organize a group walk through your local area where the kids can place them. Every time they pass the same spot in the future and see their flowers blooming, they’ll be reminded of the importance of pollination in the food chain.
Oftentimes, kids gulp down their meals without ever questioning how the food arrived on their plate. Taking them through the steps from farm to table and having them cook their own meals can go a long way to helping them understand the process. Partner up with a local restaurant that’s wiling to participate in nutrition education programs, preferably one that utilizes farm-to-table practices already, and organize a cooking class. Have kids involved in every step: pick a healthy recipe and use local, seasonal ingredients to cook and eat the meal. Read labels and talk about the nutrients that each ingredient provides as you cook to help kids better understand the importance of making healthy eating choices.
If you can’t find a restaurant to partner with, set up a similar experience in a home kitchen. Take a field trip to a grocery store or farmers’ market where your kids can learn about nutritional value and labels as you work together to select healthy ingredients.
Understanding how to reduce waste is another important step to learning about sustainable food practices. Help your youth organization start a recycling program that not only collects and recycles packaging, but food waste as well. Our school garden is kept well-nourished with organic compost created from the food scraps that the kids recycle in a separate bin at lunch. Set up containers in your school or meeting place for your youth group to collect food waste that can be composted. Build and maintain your own compost bin if you have the space, or find a local composting facility you can donate to.
Sustainability and the importance of healthy eating aren’t always easy ideas to teach to younger minds, but applying the concepts to real-world experiences can make it much easier for kids to understand. And remember to share your family’s food journey with us on Twitter.
Image source: Sher Warkentin
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