By Alison Peacham
How can we help to ensure a generation of healthier happier children and a healthy planet? It’s never been more important to support children’s mental health and wellbeing, as many young people are anxious and worried about the COVID pandemic and global threats such as climate change.
The choices we make about what we eat and how food is grown, produced and processed has a massive impact on children’s health and the health of the environment. Our western diets tend to include high meat and dairy which contribute to climate change by using more of the world’s resources in terms of land for grazing, land to grow food for livestock (forests are cut down) and of course livestock release methane. Food production also has a big impact as we use energy for food processing, transport, storage and waste disposal. Many children are thinking differently about how we can protect the planet and are looking to take action to create a more caring and sustainable world.
Here are 10 ways to encourage children to connect with nature, care about the environment, as well as nourish their own mind and bodies with healthy food as they grow up.
1. Eat mostly plants: Eat whole foods that haven’t been heavily processed such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And how can we encourage children to eat 5 a day and beyond? Peel and chop fruit or serve as a kebab. Add crudities or soup as a starter. See if children can eat a rainbow a day – make a Rainbow Food Activity Chart (red, green, purple, white and yellow). Ensure a colourful plate! Hide vegetables in soups, sauces, pancakes, muffins, flapjacks and fresh smoothies.
2. Eat the seasons & mostly local foods: Eating locally and seasonally is best for everyone – you get the tastiest fresh fruit and veg, the local farmer benefits and food miles (the distance our food has to travel from the farm to your fork) decreases so you get to help the environment too. Another unexpected benefit is to reconnect children to nature’s seasonal cycle. Farmers’ markets are a great place to find local seasonal veg, or consider getting an organic veggie box delivery–an excellent way to encourage a more diverse range of veg.
3. Grow your own fruit and veg: Children love watching plants grow and what a thrill to eat the food they have harvested. If you don’t have room for a vegetable patch, pots and containers are just as good. Sprouting seeds is another fun way to get children interested. Sprouts grow quickly and are highly nutritious.
4. Forage for foods: If you’re not sure what to pick, foraging workshops are great fun. Wild plants such as blackberries, chestnuts, clover, dandelions, elderflowers, nettles, rosehips, wild garlic are just some of the many plants that can be used in recipes.
5. Eat less and better-quality meat: Eat a palm sized portion of meat at a meal and if possible, choose organic, pasture-fed meat and dairy products (avoiding chemicals, antibiotics & hormones). When buying fish look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label. Try other sources of protein such as eggs, pulses (lentils, chickpeas, beans), quinoa, ‘flower’ foods such as broccoli or cauliflower, nuts and seeds. Include flax, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame. Grind and sprinkle on cereal, hide in recipes or enjoy nut butters.
6. Make a difference by wasting less food & loving your leftovers: Get children involved in planning meals and see how creative they can be in using up leftovers. Make a soup or smoothie at the end of the week to use up what’s left. Use your freezer if you can’t use food in time before it goes off.
7. Compost food waste: Buy a compost bin or build your own. It’s great for children to see how a compost recycles the nutrients found in plants and feeds the soil – helping new plants and the planet! Vegetable peelings, fruit waste, tea bags, grass cuttings, plant pruning, cardboard and fallen leaves can all be added.
8. Reduce your packaging: Use a re-usable container rather than cling film, foil or a plastic bag. Use re-fillable bottles rather than cans and cartons. How about getting children to plan a no waste lunch-box or picnic?
9. Keep processed foods low: eat fewer foods high in fat, salt and sugar such as cakes, biscuits, crisps – just eat occasionally and make every meal count towards being nourishing.
10. Involve young people in planning, preparing and cooking meals and snacks using simple fresh seasonal ingredients: Soups, muffins, flapjacks, pancakes, fruit kebabs are fun and easy to make.
Alison Peacham is a registered nutritional therapist & health coach. She specialises in women’s health and children’s nutrition, helping them to eat well, live well and transform their health so they can live their best lives. A former teacher and educator, she is passionate about sustainability and conservation.