We’ve now got a generation of kids who live their lives thinking food comes in plastic packages and boxes from the supermarket or maybe ready-made from a drive-through chain takeaway restaurant. There are families in NZ (this makes me sad to write) without the knowledge or basic kitchen equipment to cook a healthy filling meal. There are children who have no idea that vegetables grow in the ground, fruit grows on trees or the milk they drink is actually from a farm. Our supermarkets have convinced us that there are no longer seasons for food. We expect beans, apples and tomatoes year round.
Food, its source and how to prepare a meal, needs to become an inherent part of a child’s education. In almost 150 schools in NZ a wonderful programme, Garden to Table, is spearheaded by a charitable trust and run by enlightened teachers, assisted by volunteers. Children have weekly sessions, becoming involved in all aspects of an environmentally sustainable garden. They harvest the bounty and move into a purpose-built kitchen to prepare and cook delicious, seasonal meals they have produced. They sit around a table, set with knife and fork, and converse in a family-style meal.
This curriculum-integrated programme provides real-world learning opportunities for children outside the traditional classroom environment. It includes planning, maths, reading and writing, and, most importantly, acquiring practical life skills they can take home and share with their families. Imagine the surprise of the parents when their kids come home and explain how much they love kale!
As we move into 2021, food on our tables should be one of the top conversations our politicians are having. It would be fantastic to see government energy and funds put into more than just breakfasts for hungry school kids, and to expand this programme to assist all schools to have a food garden, a kitchen, and for it to be part of the primary school curriculum.
There are other ways to get children to learn about growing and cooking. Right now, with fruit pickers as rare as sightings of the moa, families can get out and about and harvest the seasonal fruit and vegetables at bargain prices. One of my favourite experiences with my grandsons last year was strawberry picking at Omaha Flats. More strawberries went into their little mouths than ended up in the bucket but now those boys know how strawberries grow.
We also need to get children to our farms to learn more about where their food comes from. On Sunday February 21, Open Farms NZ will open their gates, inviting everybody in. This initiative believes in reconnecting Kiwis with our land, food and farmers, getting back to basics and learning more about food. As a farmer or a visitor, you can sign up at openfarms.co.nz to participate in this great day out of learning.
And as parents and grandparents, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the knowledge of how to choose, prepare and cook good food. As a good Nana, I started with my grandson standing on a chair, breaking the eggs into the bowl for pancakes before he turned two. Sure, he tipped the bowl over occasionally, but that’s part of the fun. Food should be fun, and we must involve our kids in growing and cooking if they’re to learn about good, fresh seasonal food.
1 ½ cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 ¼ cups milk
1 large egg
3 tbsp butter, melted
Extra butter and oil for cooking
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth.
Grease a frying pan with a little oil and butter over medium heat.
Spoon the batter into the pan, using approximately two large tablespoons for each pancake, making about two or three at a time. Brown on both sides and stack on top of each other. Cover with a clean tea towel to keep warm.
Serve at once with fresh berries and maple syrup.