Sow (verb): to scatter seed for the purpose of growth

As a mother and an educator, I spend a good part of my time sowing the “seeds” of knowledge and healthy habits in children. When our family visits Plimoth Plantation and learns about pilgrims, camps at a National Park, shops at our town’s farmers’ market and cooks dinner together, I am laying the groundwork, and planting the seeds, for the person my daughter will become. Like a spring gardener, I germinate, scatter, spread, plant, tend, and hope.

Parents, aunts, uncles, teachers and friends — anyone who spends time with children — are sowers. Every time we answer a question, take a trip, read a story, teach a concept, or give an opinion, we are part of the process of growing our next generation of citizens. When it comes to food and nutrition literacy, it can feel like every grocery cart I fill, every meal I prepare or snack I stick in my daughter’s backpack should make a difference. But does it matter to her?  

The challenging part in scattering these seeds, be they experiences, stories, meals or values, is that we are often in the dark as to how our little plants are taking in these valuable “nutrients”. What is happening underground? And when my daughter, Ruby, asks for pasta for the 3rd night in a row, I wonder, is any of this really getting in?

Until a few weeks ago…

Ruby and I were in the kitchen. She sat at her favorite seat on the stool by our center island, I was cutting broccoli (and probably boiling some pasta) for her dinner.

R: “Mama! I did your thing today at school with Julie!”

M: “Oh? What thing, honey?”

R: “Your work! You know, Take a Taste! What does it taste like? What does it feel like? What does it smell like? At lunch… we were eating waffles and as we were eating, I asked Julie the questions. I asked her ‘What do you notice? Is it sweet? Is it crunchy? Do you like it? Why?

Well, well, well…

Eating kale while we cook at home

Eating kale while we cook at home

A little sprout had broken through the surface! With this story, I was able to see how some of the work that I had done at home (exposing her to a variety of foods, talking about taste and texture, encouraging curiosity)  was paying off. Okay, so I understand that the waffles and ham served in the school cafeteria might not count among the healthiest of lunch choices, but the fact that my daughter was using the tools I had given her, transferring the experience out of our home and family, and sharing it with others at school, gave me a glimpse into the growth that had been happening underground.  It’s now a regular part of our conversation when we eat. We talk about texture and flavor and what we like about something, and often, what we don’t like.

The lesson for me here was the importance of being a patient gardener. Research has shown that it can take 10 or more exposures to a new food before a child will like it. We don’t see what’s happening during those first 9 tries, but as their familiarity grows, and their taste buds get accustomed to the new flavors and textures, children’s food preferences will develop.

Here are a few ways that we’ve sown the seeds of a healthy attitude towards food, curiosity in the kitchen, and a connection to where our food comes from in our family. It hasn’t always been successful, and many nights I’m still boiling pasta for dinner. However, it’s something we work towards and a value we hold dear in our family.

  • Beginning when she was just a few weeks old, I would give Ruby opportunities to smell fresh herbs by rubbing a few leaves in my fingers and bringing them up to her nose. As she got a bit older, I’d have her smell the actual herb sprigs.
  • When we travel, either close to our home or far away, we try to experience as many of the local tastes and flavors as we can (like Octopus on a family trip to Greece!).
  • We always encourage her to just “take a taste” of something new. If she doesn’t like it, we never force her to eat it.
  • We put cooking front and center. Although Ruby doesn’t always cook with me, she’s often underfoot in the kitchen and able to ask questions about what I’m making and sneak a few tastes off the cutting board.
  • When we eat out, we try to stay clear of the children’s menus and instead order an appetizer off the regular menu we think Ruby will like. We will often just share whatever we’ve ordered.
  • We visit farmer’s markets and talk to the cultivators and producers of our food. It always seems to taste better when we know where it comes from. Ruby also loves to taste all the free samples as we walk from stand to stand!
Ruby Octopus in Greece

Eating Octopus on family vacation!

What are some of the ways in which you work with your children, family, students, friends, and spouses to cultivate a healthy attitude and curiosity about food and cooking?

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