Thais Freitas

Storytelling & Communications Strategy

Using food choices to shape my children’s minds and hearts

Food choices for kids.Thais Freitas

Don’t get me wrong: I love Costco as much as anyone who appreciates good prices and large quantities. But when I see a box of fruit there from a faraway country like Thailand – something that definitely wouldn’t grow here in Canada – I can’t help but wonder how we can get that fruit or, say, $7 a box when it’s circled the globe just so we can have it here now. It’s a fascinating and, dare I say, deeply troubling phenomenon.

And so, like the mildly neurotic responsible mom that I am, I take it upon myself to engage my kids in some insightful conversations about this issue. I sit them down, my little captive audience, and bombard them with questions. “Hey, boys, if this box of tropical deliciousness only costs $7, how much do you think the farmer who grew those fruits made? Could we survive on that kind of money? And what kind of chemicals do you think they used to keep this fruit ripe and edible here in Canada?” Now, my sons, bless their hearts, respond with the most nonsensical answers like, “Oh, Mom, a big excavator scooped them up and Spiderman flew them all the way here!” They’re only three and five, after all. But I persist because it’s crucial to me that they grow up understanding the true cost and value of the things they consume.

Yep, I’m probably the world’s most annoying mom, but hey, opportunities for life lessons are everywhere.

Eating locally for a sustainable planet and community

Food that travels thousands of miles to reach our plates wreaks havoc on our environment: Think carbon emissions, resource wastage, and the use of harmful pesticides and farming practices that deplete the soils – and quite often, part of the journey involves exploited labor. That’s why I prefer locally grown food, buying from farmers markets whenever possible, and occasionally taking the kids to u-pick farms so they can see how fruits and vegetables grow and the effort it takes to pick and prepare them for consumption. I also use these opportunities to explain to them (and remind myself) why the food at farmers’ markets, grown using artisanal, regenerative and small-scale farming methods, is more expensive than the mass-produced goods from far away that we buy in the supermarket.

There is also something magical about buying directly from the people who grow our food. I’ve seen my kids strike up conversations with the vendors at the farmers market, and when we sit down to a meal with the very carrots they picked out from the lady in the hat, their eyes light up with joy. It’s a personal connection that fosters gratitude and a sense of community. Plus, when we support local farmers, the economic benefits circulate throughout our community and positively impact all local businesses.

The ethics of the food we eat

Another important aspect of our food choices is the ethical implications. Even though we aren’t vegetarians for various reasons, we’re mindful of how the animals we eat are raised and processed and the impact this has on the environment. This means, for example, that we buy free-range chicken and eggs and seafood from responsible sources. It’s a whole process of figuring out where our food comes from, and I’m not going to lie, it’s often exhausting and frustrating because sometimes it feels like there are no affordable, humane alternatives, but we have to keep trying because the more people care about these things, the more the industry will adapt to meet the demand.

Valuing the lives we consume

In our home, we’ve adopted a rather quirky approach to eating meat. You see, we don’t eat beef or pork; we eat cows and pigs. By using the original names of the animals instead of those generic terms like “beef” or “pork,” we’re reminding ourselves and our kids that what’s on our plates was once a living, breathing creature. It’s like those adorable animals we pet at the petting zoo, only now we’re consuming them. It may sound a bit odd, but our hope is that this practice instills empathy and gratitude in our children, making them aware of the sacrifices animals make to nourish us and our impact on the lives of others.

Growing food is HARD

The older my kids get, the more I involve them in gardening and growing food: tending the soil, sowing the seeds, watering the plants, harvesting the fruit, saving the seeds for next year, and cleaning up the garden for the winter. It’s hard work, we’re constantly learning, and the harvest is nowhere near as bountiful as when we just go to the supermarket. And when you add up the time and resources we invest in getting each fruit and vegetable ready to eat, they’re much more expensive than a whole box at Costco – another reason I’m always impressed that they aren’t more expensive.

Learning from the challenges of nature

The flip side of the difficulties of growing our own food is that it provides children with unique learning opportunities, such as an appreciation for the produce we can so easily buy at the supermarket and the work of the people who put it on our table, the realization that the land is abundant if we take care of it, and that we have more power to take care of ourselves than we give ourselves credit for. Not to mention the fact that the things we grow taste much better, the sense of pride and self-confidence when we eat what we’ve grown, learning about the place where we live, and the joy and satisfaction of working with our hands, outside, away from screens, and enjoying the sun together as a family.

Empathy and sharing

Last summer we had this beautiful eggplant growing in our garden. We waited patiently for it to ripen, and when it finally did, we decided to eat it the next day. But guess what? We weren’t the only ones eyeing that purple wonder. As morning arrived, we discovered that a nocturnal animal had beaten us to it, devouring half of our prized eggplant and leaving the remains on the ground. Needless to say, the disappointment was palpable, not just for the kids but for me too. But this incident was also an opportunity to show them:

– That we live in an interconnected ecosystem where other living things rely on the same resources we do, so we need to share and coexist in harmony.

– How important it is to take care of what is valuable to us, and the consequences of not doing so. For example, we could have put a fence around the eggplant, but we didn’t.

– Growing food takes a lot of time and effort, and it can be disheartening to lose that overnight, even if it’s just a hobby and not a livelihood. This experience helps children understand, on a much smaller scale, of course, the challenges farmers face when their crops are affected by floods, fires, or other environmental disasters that are exacerbated by climate change and are becoming more common.

Our garden has seen its fair share of wild visitors. Squirrels feasting on our juicy tomatoes, a groundhog running amok amidst the flower beds, slugs devouring our lettuce and cauliflower. These incidents will continue to happen and I’m thankful for them because it’s a gentle way for my kids to learn that frustration is a part of life and how to cope with it.

Eating right is holistic

In the grand tapestry of life, we hold the power to weave a story of compassion, empathy, and conscientious living. Our mission as parents transcends the boundaries of nutrition and gardening: It’s about cultivating a holistic understanding within our children. By engaging them in thought-provoking discussions about the impact of our food choices and encouraging them to ponder their place in our community and the environment at large, I hope to raise humans who can help build a food system that stands on pillars of sustainability and responsibility, paving the way for a brighter, more nourishing future for them and for the next generations.

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