Helping Kids Understand Sustainable Eating
Plus, Sweet Potato and Black Bean, Brown Rice, Corn and Mustard Green Bowl
Introducing kids to the idea of sustainable eating isn’t as hard as it sounds.
It might start with putting the baby in a stroller and heading out to the farmers’ market. Or letting your toddler plant a little container garden. Then at some point, don’t be surprised when your once picky 8-year-old begins loving asparagus.
“Nothing brings greater joy than watching children beg their parents for a bunch of carrots or broccoli. And yes, it truly does happen,” Emily Oakley said.
And she would know. Oakley and Mike Appel, owners of Three Springs Farms, have been fixtures at the Tulsa Farmers’ Market for 16 years, and have watched little customers grow up every Saturday right before their eyes.
It’s given them a front-row seat to the benefits of raising kids who inherently understand the concept of sustainable eating. Kids who have been in tow with their parents at the market are much more likely to understand where their food comes from, Emily said.
For other kids, this knowledge comes from growing a small backyard garden, composting or recycling. They understand better than many adults that food doesn’t come from plastic bags but from the soil. These are kids who could teach their schools’ Earth Day curriculum, explaining the concept of eating and choosing foods healthy for our bodies – and for the environment.
It’s no surprise that Emily and Mike’s 7-year-old daughter, Lisette, has a deep understanding of where food comes from. Lisette has been in the fields, watching food grow from seed to harvest, since she was a baby.
Last year, she spent many days huddled over a farm puddle watching frogs’ eggs hatch into tadpoles and then to little frogs.
“All kids can find wonder and excitement in nature, and the greatest gift to us as parents is that they help remind us to celebrate the everyday joys of the world around us,” Emily said.
And Emily said that’s something kids can experience no matter where they live. Though she now spends her days on a remote farm, her first experiences with the outdoors came as a kid, walking to Zink Park or carrying a jar to Woodward Park to fill with water from the pond. Once home, she would look to see if she had captured anything interesting.
Conversations about sustainable living are more likely to come up around Earth Day, but the practices are something families can do year-round. It starts with letting your kids know of the natural wonders all around them. And kids of all ages can understand the responsibility we have to nourish our bodies without harming the planet.
This recipe, from the OU Culinary Medicine’s Healthy Cooking Basics class is a great way to use fresh, local produce. You can serve it as a bowl, or put the mixture into corn tortillas for taco night.
Sweet Potato, Black Bean, Brown Rice, Corn, and Mustard Green Bowl
Photo from OU Medicine
- 2 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil plus 2 teaspoons, divided
- 4 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
- Zest of 1 orange
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
- 1 cup brown rice
- 2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (or water)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels
- 2 14-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2-3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 bunches mustard greens, rib removed, washed and chopped
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Toss sweet potato cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons cumin, orange zest, cinnamon, oregano, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Place sweet potatoes on foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes or until beginning to turn golden and soften. Set aside and keep warm.
- Combine rice and stock in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then stir in 2 teaspoons cumin, chili powder and corn. Reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer about 25-30 minutes or until water is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in beans, cover and set aside.
- Add remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil to a medium sauté pan and place over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes but do not brown. Add greens a handful at a time until wilted and bright green. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Add ½ cup of water and continue cooking until greens are tender – about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
- For each serving place rice mixture in a bowl or on a plate, top with greens, top with sweet potatoes. Squeeze lime juice over the top of each portion. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.
Understanding Sustainable Eating
- Grow something. Start small with a clay pot and a seed packet. Kids will love looking at all the seed packets to pick their favorite.
- Shop the farmers’ markets. Meeting the farmers helps kids understand where their food is grown.
- Find a you-pick farm. During berry season, load the kids to a farm to plunk berries into a pail. Then make something yummy with them when you get home.
- Explain seasonal eating. Help your kids understand that the tomatoes you buy in the grocery store in the winter aren’t grown locally. Buy lots of local, seasonal produce to help them love those foods.
- Use less packaged foods. Teach your kids that though they may like the individually packaged bags of crackers and cookies, reusable bags and containers are better for the planet.
Natalie Mikles is a mom of three. She writes about food, sharing recipes for busy families and picky eaters. She has been recognized for her food columns as well as features on families and issues affecting local children. She loves pizza and movie nights with her family.