We help them grow healthy food
Published 7 Jul 2017
Many British children think cheese grows on plants, and fish fingers are made of chicken, but an innovative Co-operative Childcare programme will see children grow, cook and eat their own healthy fruit and vegetables.
When you next see children tucking into a plate of pasta or a cheese sandwich, ask them where they think their food comes from. According to research by the British Nutrition Foundation, chances are they’ll say their cheese grew on a plant and their pasta came from an animal.
Ask about fish fingers, and they may say they’re made of chicken. And one in ten won’t know carrots grow underground and tomatoes above ground. The huge gap in what our children know about where food comes from was highlighted in the BNF’s latest Healthy Eating Week research, one of the largest studies of its kind in the UK, which surveyed more than 5,000 schoolchildren aged five to 16.
But now The Co-operative Childcare is putting into place an educational programme that means children are taught from an early age that the food they eat – including their Christmas dinner – doesn’t grow on the supermarket shelves.
By the end of this year, pre-school children who go to the 44 Co-operative nurseries – known as Little Pioneers – will know exactly how to grow fruit and vegetables, what they taste like and how to cook them.
‘We want to embrace the role we play in supporting the health of future generations,’ says Sally Mayer, Chief Operating Officer for The Co-operative Childcare, which looks after 3,500 children aged from six weeks to five years.
‘Many young children, who just see food arrive on their plates, do not fully understand where the food comes from, as very few see the raw ingredients.
‘By placing raw ingredients on tables during mealtimes, we will encourage discussion and making connections – such as linking eggs to the quiche on their plates.’
The programme, Educating Children the Co-op Childcare Way, started informally, with most of the nurseries already growing fruit and vegetables. Now Sally is formalising it, so Co-op nursery professionals are specially trained to educate the children about how food reaches their plates, as well as receiving additional training about healthy eating and nutrition.
Sally hopes that through this programme, children will try the food they grow. And by educating them about where food comes from, ‘we may reduce the number of fussy eaters, and it may also encourage our children to make healthier food choices.
‘Imagine if we can get children asking for carrots and broccoli because they grew and liked them at nursery,’ she adds.
Teaching children to be green fingered – #grownbyyou – is only a small part of the project. Sally also hopes to run trips to farms and bakeries so that children will be able to see cows being milked and learn about crops. Some nurseries will get incubators so toddlers can see chicks hatch.
This is all part of Sally’s wider aim to get food provenance accredited on nursery menus.
The Co-operative Childcare is working with Happerley growers to become the first large childcare provider to carry Happerley accreditation. Happerley was set up in 2014 by farmer Matthew Rymer to trace where our food – and its ingredients – come from.
Sally explains: ‘This innovative partnership is truly showcasing our “Co-operative Difference” and the responsibility we are taking to educate the youngest children.’
At Little Pioneers in Walsall Wood in the West Midlands, the programme is well underway – and families are already reaping the benefit, says Sarah Smith, deputy nursery manager.
Children of three and four have been growing vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots and green beans, as well as cultivating basil, thyme and parsley in their herb garden.
‘The children are involved from the start,’ Sarah says. ‘They plant the seeds and we have a daily watering monitor.
‘Since we started doing this, and sending home recipe cards, children have been excited about growing their own foods, and they’ve been happier to try them.
‘Our cook bakes with the children once a week – they make things like fruit and oat cookies, or they use the produce they’ve grown as pizza toppings.’