By The Sustainable Chef Gerard Viverito
As parents, we try to set a good example for nutritious eating and not rely on meals in a bag. But I know it’s not always easy! Between busy schedules and picky eaters, sometimes we’re just happy when our kids get anything into their growling stomachs. But something I read recently made me stop and think about how easy it would be to teach our kids to make smarter food choices both for their health and the wellbeing of our environment.
This year, the entire country of Malaysia is conducting a Love MY Palm Oil campaign. The idea is to instill national pride and greater appreciation for Malaysian palm oil. As part of this campaign, kids are participating in fun cooking classes where they learn about palm oil’s health and societal benefits. They also learn how Malaysia’s mandatory certified sustainability program for its palm oil industry is helping to protect the environment.
We could do something similar but on a smaller scale in our own households to teach our kids how to make better food choices. Stay with me here. I’m excited about these simple ideas! I’ll bet you start doing at least one of these today.
- Eat outside. Help your kids connect with nature by skipping the table and snacking under a tree or even on your front porch. Cleaning crumbs and spills will also get a whole lot easier.
- Keep eco-friendly foods in your pantry. Whether you know it or not, your kids are paying attention to your ingredient choices. It’s human nature to gravitate toward familiar foods that we grew up with. So, as you unpack your groceries, explain why you chose one brand over another. And teach them to look for ingredients on food labels such as garlic, nuts and berries, which come from perennial plants that are reharvested year after year.
- Grow your own snacks. Plant a garden with kid-approved vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers and seedless, thin-skinned cucumbers. Concepts learned by gardening, such as plants’ need for water and sunlight, may help kids develop responsibility and respect for our planet.
- Teach your kids about food origins. Visit nearby farms and orchards to show your kids which foods are produced locally. Encourage them to sample new things. Then explain that our food is produced all over the world, such as tropically grown bananas and pineapples. Share stories about family farmers who practice sustainable farming, such as these Malaysian oil palm smallholders.
- Get your kids involved with the actual cooking. Make meal time a family event. There are tasks even smaller children can do in the kitchen, such as mixing the panko bread crumbs with parmesan cheese for my better-for-you chicken nugget recipe, which is a hit with youngsters. Encourage your kids’ interest in nourishing foods by letting them choose a healthy entrée or side dish each week.
- Drink smoothies. Food waste is estimated at between 30 and 40 percent of the American food supply. This uneaten food is often sent to landfills where it quickly generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Keep a container in the freezer for fruits that are past their prime. Bananas that are turning brown and peaches getting soft are ideal for smoothies.