Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food

I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad. It drives the point home that as a society we are, as Oliver points out in his TED talk (which is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time), very disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Sure, kids eat french fries and ketchup, but do they know they come from potatoes and tomatoes? He also points out that the current generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Of course after that I had to quiz my five-year-old Ava (to make sure I wasn’t being overly critical) and she knew what everything was except the beet (which we don’t eat because I think they taste like dirt).

Photo credit: Jacki-dee

Ava’s kindergarten class is currently doing a section about food. My daughter already knows a fair bit about what she eats since she’s been gardening with me since before she could walk. We also have friends who have chickens and we frequently visit the farmers’ market. I don’t know what specifically her class is being taught about food, but I imagine it’s pretty light and upbeat (i.e. no information about factory farming, genetically modified organisms, etc.). That’s OK with me though. I feel like you can only give five-year-olds so much information. They have plenty of time to learn more about the current farming practices in the United States when they get older. I have been impressed that they made butter in school by shaking a jar full of cream and will be making applesauce as well, and are even hatching baby chickens in an incubator in the classroom. They also took a field trip to a supermarket. A trip to a community garden would have been nicer, but there’s not much to see at a garden in Colorado in early March. Regardless, I’m glad that her school is teaching young children about food and hope that others around the country are as well.

Earlier this week I finally sat down to watch Food, Inc. for the very first time. My kids, ages three and five, who were not yet in bed sat down too, ready to watch along side me. I had a conversation with myself in my head for a minute. Should I let them watch it? I haven’t yet seen it so I have no idea what to expect. But it’s about food and where food comes from, and that’s educational, right? I decided to turn it on and keep the remote in my hand in case anything looked like it might get too gory or inappropriate for them.

Ava watched it quite intently and asked me several questions. Julian, my 3-year-old, watched bits and pieces while he wasn’t busy playing. Actually, one of the things he started playing (after watching a scene where a factory chicken farmer collects dead chickens was “throw the dead chickens (stuffed animals) into a bucket.” It was rather fascinating to see him reenact that scene.

At one point, I stopped the movie to gauge Ava’s reaction and ask her how watching it made her feel. She replied, “Sad and happy. Sad because people have to eat the chickens. Happy because I’m learning.” That reinforced my decision to let her watch it. I was very happy to hear that learning made her happy.

We ended up watching only half of the movie together before it was time for the kids to go to bed and they missed some of the more gruesome scenes like the lame cows, pig slaughterhouse and the scene of the traditional farmer and his workers killing and processing chickens (which really wasn’t that bad). After seeing it all now though, I think they would have been OK with watching it.

Food, Inc. is rated PG “for some thematic material and disturbing images” and that seems very fair. I wouldn’t let children watch it on their own, but I think if they watch with a parent it’s a great learning opportunity for all parties involved.

This spring we will start getting chickens (to eat) from a local farmer and I think a field trip of sorts to visit the farm and the chickens is in order. We’re also hoping to get chickens or maybe ducks of our own for eggs once we move and have more land. The more I can expose my children to where their food comes from, the better. We’re not perfect. We go out to eat and even eat *gasp* fast food and junk food from time to time, but my kids know what a tomato is, they see me cooking and gardening and help me with those things. All of that, I believe, will help establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime and will hopefully keep them from becoming a statistic.

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19 thoughts on “Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food”

  1. Great post! I think you’re right, it is very sad that kids don’t know what fruits & veggies even are, where they come from or what to do with them! Come on parents teach your kids the basics of cooking & food.

  2. I watched the 20min TED talk with Quinn (4.5) and he was fascinated! I quizzed him on a ton of fruit and veggies and he did know a lot…but he also missed a lot of things I KNOW he’s eaten and likes! So who knows about kids.

    At our last nutrition meeting we learned that starting next year BVSD will have nutrition as a graded line on the report card. I find this mixed, honestly. Teachers have a lot on their plate already and it’s sad that this isn’t learned as part of family culture.

    We slaughtered and ate our own chickens twice that I remember as a kid. It makes an impression on you for sure! I still ate chickens though.

  3. I watched, “Food, Inc.” and I think I would let my kids watch it. Though, probably not on their own. At just 5 and 1 1/2 I can’t really see them wanting to watch it on their own anyhow.

    Anyways, we do a lot of the same things that you do. We visit the farmer’s market and garden and buy food from farmstands. I know my daughter could recognize a tomato, because she doesn’t like them and loudly informs me when she comes across one. I’m glad that she knows about food, where it comes from, and how much better a fresh carrot from the garden actually tastes.

  4. My son’s favorite book is Peter Rabbit. Just recently I learned for months when I read the mouse has a large pea in her mouth he was thinking pee. LOL! We have not eaten peas as DS has soy allergies and reactions to related foods including peas and green beans.

    I felt so bad my kid didn’t know what a pea was! So Dad looked up pictures of peas online….No wonder he was wondering all this time why the mouse would have pee in her mouth!

    He also learned this week the Vanilla milk he gets when Momma gets her coffee drink comes from a cow not from me when I pump. He asked me why there was a cow on the box so I explained the milk he drinks now is from a cow. To think I thought cow’s milk was normal but in his world milk comes from Momma even though he’s been weaned over a year.

  5. I highly recommend (for you – not the kiddos) reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I think it is really well-written and offers a lot of information about factory farming and also about how unfortunately meaningless a lot of food labels are like “cage-free.”

  6. Hi! I just found you through BF, and subscribed to your feed. I can’t wait for the Jamie Oliver show to start! I keep trying to set it up in TiVo, but it hasn’t come up yet. We’re a green family who tries to live better and better each day. I’ll be coming back to read more.


  7. Jamie Oliver did something similar to this in his ‘School Dinners’ program in the UK. It did a great job in highlighting the current childhood obesity problems and how children relate to food at home and in school. He did come into some criticism though by those who found his attitude a bit elitist, with some parents even passing chips (fries) through the school gates to children who’s menus had been revamped.
    Personally I thought he did an admiral job in the face of what can be a very difficult subject matter and I hope he does the same for viewers in the US.

  8. I suppose iIshould not have been shocked when i was reading a cookbook a few months ago and my roommate’s 7 yo daughter asked me what the pictures of eggplant and bell pepper were.

  9. I once knew a gal who was going into college and had no clue what an avacado was. How do you get to be 18 and never see an avacado? Or wonder what guacamole is made of? We need to get real food in front of our children and get back to the basics.

  10. My kids can identify most fruits and vegetables, but no matter how many times I tell them, they refuse to believe that French fries are potatoes. That is probably partially because I don’t often make homemade fries (I just find my potatoes turn out better if prepared in other ways).

  11. I’m puzzled by the fact that those healthy and nutritious foods that should be the pillars of our children diets are largely the most expensive compared to junk food. Food policy has failed us and our kids, unfortunately all of us are paying and people in lower socioeconomic status bear the heaviest burden because education and affordability are hard to come by for that segment. This is a food justice issue and all Moms should be heavily concerned that not everyone has the same access to REAL food, even once our eyes have been opened and want to do the best for our children.

  12. Yesterday my daughter and I stopped at the local farmer’s stand and she squealed with delight upon walking in the front door – she had seen the broccoli! The stuffed horse and candy on shelves didn’t hold a candle to the broccoli. And, then she noticed the apples, bananas, walnuts, oranges, lettuce, carrots and celery and was nearly beside herself with delight! I like knowing that broccoli is more exciting than chocolate bars and that she knows what broccoli. Just when you can’t do anything right with parenting, your child proves you wrong. 🙂

    Please check out my blog – I think that you will find our family project very interesting!

  13. I’ve just watched the TED talk and being a new mother, it’s made me much more conscious of the fact that it IS really important what I teach her from an early age

    I want to have faith in the education system but at the same time I’m a big believer in the parents being a big part of it. Surely we need to educate the parents as much as the children.

  14. Awww….give beets a chance!! 🙂 Try sugar beets. They are a bit more tasty and you can actually make your own sugar from them. It is an easy process and so much better for you!!

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