There are lots of things we can do to teach children to be conscious of food waste.
Us adults are aware of the significance of food waste and do our best to avoid it. We try to consume consciously, avoid excessive waste and use leftovers. But what about our kids? To pass these behaviours down to future generations, we should set an example and perhaps, put a particular emphasis on it. There’s no doubt that we can have a greater influence if we try to make it fun instead of lecturing about it.
The first thing we can do to avoid food waste is to not leave any on our plate. But how can we teach this to our kids? The experts tell us that kids should decide how much they will eat, even when they are babies. This way, the baby will grow up to be someone who can listen to their own needs and understand the body’s signals of feeling hungry and full. If we decide for them, they lose their ability to read these signals over time. So, if we want our children to not leave food on their plate, we have to stop overfilling their plates. If they are little, we should only give them seconds after they have finished everything on their plate. As they grow up, we should let them dish up their own meals.
Of course, sometimes we don’t realise just how hungry we are ourselves. Expecting our children to force themselves to clean their plate or telling them they can’t leave the table until they have finished doesn’t help. It is better to teach them how to be responsible regarding leftovers. If they can’t finish it today, they will tomorrow. Placing the leftovers in a container and writing their name and an expiry date on it may help them to take responsibility and do something before it’s too late.
Did the stork bring that too?
Today, many kids, unfortunately, think potatoes grow as chips. They have no idea what a courgette looks like or what good tomatoes are for, other than making ketchup. There are many children who are unaware that the mushrooms on their pizza grow in the forest or where the egg they ate this morning comes from. If we don’t involve children in the production and shopping phases of food preparation, we can’t expect them to know better.
Balcony gardening is a fun activity for kids living in a flat as they learn how food is grown. Let them see how herbs, fruits and vegetables grow slowly in pots. They should work to grow these plants as well. Another fun and informative activity is to go to the forest to collect edible herbs. You can even try creating your own map and have a “treasure hunt in the forest”.
As for food shopping, leave at least some of it for after school hours and take every opportunity to go with them to the market, supermarket, fish counter, butchers and bakery. It is very important for them to understand where food comes from, how it is produced and who makes it. Of course, it will make much more sense to them if they listen to what food workers have to say. When the old lady in the market says, “it was a tough week for us. We had so much trouble getting the produce”, they will see the hard work behind a bunch of herbs. They will understand what it means when the fisherman says, “this fish is in season now” or learn the temperature used to bake bread in the bakery.
Using things over time
We all have bananas going black in our kitchen, eggshells left over from making cakes, chickpeas, lentils and beans sitting in the cupboards for months. Another way to prevent food waste is to use these ingredients properly.
You can start by making pickles from leftover fruit and veg with your kids. Let them see how the ingredients change in texture and flavour as they turn into pickles and allow them to add different spices each time, trying new “potions”.
Let them see how you can make a great smoothie from bananas with brown spots or overripe strawberries. Allow your children to experience squeezing the juice from the stems of the vegetables you use for salads and how delicious it can be.
Another fun and tasty activity is to sprout beans. The first phase of a seed turning into a plant is when the seed begins to grow. Remember the bean projects we did in glass jars with cotton pads in primary school?
Another way of transforming leftovers is composting them. By composting, you prevent food waste at home and save 30 percent of what would otherwise go to waste. You can add banana skins, apple cores and leftovers to this compost.
These are fun activities that you can do with your child to prevent waste. They are also great tools to teach today’s fast-paced kids to be patient.
Cemre Narin is a freelance food writer and cook based in Istanbul, and has been the culinary and restaurant editor of Vogue Turkey since 2010. A former clinical psychologist, lived and worked in the US and Jordan. Co-writer of the cookbook: Icindekiler (Ingredients), Academy Chair at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, co-creator of the international food conference YEDI (Seven).