When I visited Mulberry School last summer after a few years away, I was pleasantly surprised to see some vibrant and beautiful gardens by the preschool. Mulberry has had gardens in the past, and much of how connected it was to the experience of the children depended a great deal on the parent who was willing to take on the garden job. Mulberry now has its very own gardener, Debi Sabo,
who brings her passion and previous experience at Hidden Villa Ranch to the Mulberry students, from preschool- 5th grade. Debi is passionate about the joy of growing food with children.
Debi is working with staff and families to integrate the cooking and gardening aspects of curriculum (LIFE!). Everything from making garden salads, with cumquat dressing from a family’s harvest, to offering foods that look like the parts of the body they support in the 1st/2nd graders units on the 5 senses and the human body. In 4th grade students may be creating sedimentary sandwiches or metamorphic muffins that coincides with their geology unit. With a composting system of pallets that last year’s 5th grade put together, the preschoolers are going to collect food/lunch/snack waste from each classroom for making amends with the soil. Mulberry students grow everything from fresh herbs for the mini-farmer’s market at Thanksgiving time to delicate lettuce starts for a curious JK or K to nibble during Garden Club (between dismissal and pick up).
When the lemon tree put forth a bounty crop, many things lemon were created, from dressing to sorbet. Debi helps illuminate the seasonal connections to the earth, and the delight of planting seeds and witnessing the miracle of growth unfurling. This year a greenhouse was added and the children could grow their own starts and see the awesome life cycle held in their own hands and hearts. Celery, Swiss chard, arugula, and tender greens have sprouted and even find their way into the sometimes-skeptical preschooler’s mouths. On passing by the new teeter-totter, it was noted that all 6 children on board had greens on which they were nibbling. As a matter of fact, Cora, could be heard to say, “I love lettuce! I don’t eat it very much with my mom and dad. Just here. Because the lettuce here is so good! Mmmm…Lunch!”
We are born with taste buds and sense of smell as a way to understand, enjoy and savor our food. Yet taste ranges far and wide, and when preferences on texture, temperature, presentation and control are added in, it’s a wonder our children eat enough to sustain rapidly growing bodies. Mulberry provides the experiences and understanding that students can use as foundational learning for life-long healthy habits.
Yes, we know there are foods that are good for us, and things that are not. It seems as though this would be a part of being human that just comes naturally. Yet, when parental concern begins to push toward power struggle, the normal human need for food can get lost in the midst of worry and conflict. Here are a few ideas to smooth the way for more pleasant meals, bridging school and home, and less worry about nutrition.
- AS ALWAYS…parenting affords you a chance to reflect on your own issues around food(and we all have ‘em). Often some of our “shoulds” come from a place other than what current circumstances might seem. Think about what your food journey has been, where your values around eating might have originated and how you want your parenting to reflect that.
- Decide your family values– if they are about not wasting food, then you can make agreements about portions (“Take 2 and if you want more than you can have more” or “Put leftovers in the compost/chicken scraps”). If values are about trying foods then model that, and let them know a tiny taste is enough. If its important to you to not be a “short order cook” then make one thing that is a known favorite food with each meal, and keep introducing other foods- the more kids have a chance to see, smell and observe foods, the more likely it is they will become less choosy as they grow. If its about understanding food and global impact, then make every meal a learning opportunity.
- Remember that it is normal for kids to go through phases (2 year olds are famous for being suspicious of green foods, and teens are famous for being bottomless pits!) Long, leisurely meals are probably not going to happen with preschool-1st graders, so keep your family meals flexible around their need to move or be done. Many times our tastes change, our appetites change, our needs change- so do the children’s – and this is a great thing to learn and know. School can provide a neutral space for children to explore their own development around food, and their unique body.
- GROW some food– Everything from wheatgrass in cups on the window sill to a garden plot in the local community garden, let your child plant seeds, or choose starts at the nursery. Let them garden with you (with appropriate expectations, as they may leave the dandelions and pull up all the sunflower sprouts…or just want to dig in the mud). Visit dairies, farms and U-pick places so your child can begin to understand how food gets to the table. I remember once asking kids where milk came from: “COWS!” many of them yelled. I then asked “What part of the cow?” And silence and confusion followed. Modern Americans are so removed from our food the damage of ignorance has meant animal husbandry and mass farming has caused many ethical, global and health issues today. I think gardening and growing things is deeply therapeutic- it puts our fingers in the earth, and helps us focus on how to nurture life and view the miraculous nature of this planet’s way of unfolding.
- Relax– the more relaxed mealtimes are, the more the table is a pleasant place to be together. Think of ways for you to control circumstances and not the child. As long as you are not permitting excess sugar and fats, a child will seek and gain a balanced diet over a period of days. A simple rule of thumb is that the Parent decides what, and when- the child decides if and how much. The more you undermine your own best interests by making junk food the norm, or becoming rigid at the other end of the scale, the more the issues become about relationship and not sustenance.