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Teaching Urban Children to Eat Green

Urban children experience the same early life dislike for vegetables as do most children. What parent doesn’t implore, “Eat your vegetables — they’re good for you!”  Children have over 10,000 taste buds, as opposed to elderly adults, who have around 5,000.  More taste buds means more sensitivity to different taste ranges.

urban children

The dilemma surrounding urban children and good vegetable eating habits, however, is deeper than taste buds. It surrounds access.  Vegetables are harder to locate in cities than in suburban or rural areas, as First Lady Michelle Obama highlighted in her healthy foods initiatives. Thus, lack of access to proper nutrition is one very important reason why many children are not eating the recommended levels of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

And, as a result, urban children tend to shy away from these good-for-you unprocessed foods when they’re offered. Urban children might not be familiar with, say, kiwi or artichokes.

Enticing Urban Children in Sydney to Eat Fruits and Vegetables through Games

A clever project is underway in urban Sydney called Eating the City 2.0. The goal is to help children to develop habits around eating fruits and vegetables. With intervention strategies emerging from textile and jewelry design studios, 4-7 years olds integrate food, games, and sustainable behaviors. In one activity, children shake a stick out of a box, reminiscent of Chinese Fortune Sticks, and accept a challenge to eat the fruit or vegetable inscribed on their stick. In the Green Journal, children use sensory imagery to describe the various facets of the fruits and vegetables they eat. The Food Color Wheel was inspired by the popular 1970’s game “Twister.”  A color on a wheel is associated with a fruit or vegetable by letter of the alphabet, such a green/ K/ Kiwi.  After children move to particular color selections due to a spin of the wheel, they eat their designated choices.  

In all the games, rewards are added to incentify the children. With the goal of exposing children to different types of fresh fruits and vegetables through what they see, smell, and taste, these games reinforce children’s love of play but also help them to develop good eating habits, avoid packaged foods, and appreciate nature’s harvest.  

Maybe they’ll even share their newfound knowledge about fruits and vegetables with their parents!

Why It’s Important to Instill Green Eating Habits in Urban Children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that elementary school students in the United States receive, on average, just 3.4 hours of food and nutrition education each year. Moreover, one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S are considered overweight or obese.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that the food industry spends nearly two billion dollars per year marketing to children.  73 percent of that marketing promotes food and beverages that are high in sugars and fats yet low in recommended nutrients.

To offer different messages to urban children about what to eat, many organizations around the globe are working to instill healthy eating habits.  At the same time, they foster food literacy, teach culinary skills, and educate children about the environmental, social, and health consequences of their food choices. Here are just a handful.

  • As an outreach program, the Lexington, MA farmers’ market offers cooking classes to help kids learn about nutrition and the positive impact eating from the region can have on the environment and their bodies.
  • At Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., students work in a garden filled with flowers, vegetables, and herbs, preparing ahead for the weekend’s farmers market. Learning to grow and harvest their own crops helps young people in areas with low access to fresh, healthy foods have the opportunity to interact firsthand with nature.  
  • A seven-acre outdoor classroom in Madison, WI teaches kids ages 7 to 13 about sustainability and urban agriculture through fun, hands-on activities. Teachers lead activities focused on gardening, raising chickens, and composting.
  • The Hip Hop Green Dinners is a National Health Initiative that is organized in urban communities and designed to introduce new people (especially youth) to the benefits of healthy vegan food through hosted dinners.
  • Common Threads shares the delight of cooking and delicious recipes, in conjunction with practical life-skills in health and nutrition, believing that family and food have the power to nurture and strengthen everybody.  

With programs like these to show the gift of green eating, urban children may become the next voices in the movement to eat green.  Envision it. Urban children eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables. Consuming dark leafy vegetables in their raw form. Skipping meats and the dairy. Choosing slow, complex carbs and grains.  Yum, yum.

Photo credit: Aproximando Ciência e Pessoas via Foter.com / CC BY

 

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