Summer food makes me smile. The earth is warm, green and alive. Birds are singing, insects are chirping and food is growing. I L-O-V-E when farms have fields full of healthy foods and farmer’s markets are bustling, because quite honestly, it gives me easy opportunities to teach my children about the importance and the beauty of food.
One sunny summer day, we were lucky enough to find ourselves passing by an open farm. Since it’s impossible for me to pass up an opportunity to be so close to food in it’s natural state we pulled over and walked inside. We were already on our way to picnic with our children and agreed that it would be fun to add some freshly picked raspberries to our picnic basket.
Picking raspberries is fun, but it can also be a bit time consuming. Randal Marlin referenced this fun activity best when he said, “The pursuit of truth is like picking raspberries. You miss a lot if you approach it from only one angle.” The truth is that these seemingly simple pick-your-own food outings really do have a bigger impact than merely collecting food. There are so many learning opportunities all occurring simultaneously that it’s almost too many to count, but here’s the Top Five Things To Teach When Picking Raspberries:
1) Color Matters. The best lesson to teach with color is that food changes. As adults this knowledge seems obvious and almost trivial, but to children that are learning this is amazing. In fact, it’s almost magical. That’s right! Raspberries start off a bit of a whitish-yellow color and they aren’t ready to be picked or eaten until they reach that beautiful deep pink color. Why is this important to teach? Well, besides the fact that you want your raspberries to taste good…you’re also teaching your children that the taste of food can change. And in this case, food gets sweeter. You can use this experience as a reference to encourage them to try new foods at a later date.
2) You Need To Be Gentle. Just like we need to be gentle with ourselves and with each other, we need to be gentle with our food too. Do you know what happens to a ripe raspberry if you try to pluck it off the bush with too much pressure? It’s easily crushed and turned into instant puree on your fingers. In order to fill a basket, you need to take your time and you need to be gentle. This is a great example of respecting the importance of food and eventually the entire food industry. If we want the gift of having foods that nourish us well, we need to slow down and take care of our food and where it comes from.
3) Look Deeper. Just as I referenced above, “You miss a lot if you approach it from only one angle.” It’s true. If you simply look at the surface in front of you, you’ll miss a lot of the best raspberries. I taught my oldest son to look for the tired, weeping branches and then look deeper; look underneath. Guess what he found? He was thrilled to find the very best, most well-developed raspberries there. I won’t throw in a life metaphor here, but it sure would be easy! Always look deeper, friends.
4) Texture’s Tricky. Texture is a big issue for young children that are learning about food. It can be a deal breaker for some that just need more time and more exposures. If your child has never been exposed to a variety of textures and along comes a bumpy raspberry or dark-colored blackberry their defenses will naturally come up. It’s nature’s way of protecting them. To gently get past this, simply model eating these foods in their whole state, but offer the berries altered for your child. Let them explore one whole, but also give them the option trying one single, tiny “bump” or the berries pureed. When done well, children grow to love food. Keep offering!
5) Enjoy. Food is meant to nourish us, but it’s important to enjoy food too. Our society reserves cakes, cookies and cupcakes to celebrate special days and events, instead of using healthy foods, like berries, broccoli and kale. This sends a big message to our children. It teaches them what the most exciting and delicious foods look like. Instead trying to stick a birthday candle into fresh produce, counter this message by looking for opportunities to celebrate healthy foods too. If you are a Happy Eating Club member, you know that a family picnic is one wonderful way to do this.
It took our family quite a long time to fill our tiny basket, but we eventually did. We took our time enjoying the sun, the fresh air and all the positive, food learning that was happening. We enjoyed watching our children discover that eating the raspberries from the basket or directly off the bush was very satisfying as lunch time approached, so we guided them to the picnic blanket. It came as no surprise that the first food to disappear was the raspberries that our children had been given the opportunity (and the time) to explore and connect with. It was the perfect way to say farewell to summer until next year.
Happy, Healthy Eating!