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Thanks to a hydroponic growing kit from Western Health, children at Stepping Stones Daycare in Corner Brook have seen firsthand how tiny seedlings can blossom into lovely leafy vegetables.
“The children were involved right from the very beginning in growing their own lettuce,” said the daycare’s administrator, Kelly Piercey.
The kit looks like a big Tupperware container and comes with everything needed to grow the lettuce.
“The children put the seeds in the little square pieces of rockwool in the little pots. ... Water goes through an irrigation system and drops into the pots. And right from day one, the children planted the seeds and watched them grow,” she said.
Piercey said the children, as well as the parents, were excited to see the growing process unfold.
“You could come in, in the morning, and by the time the children left at 5 or 5:30 in the afternoon, they could see the difference in the height (of the lettuce leaves). And it’s the exact same lettuce that they would see in the stores,” she said.
Piercey said it’s important to teach children at a young age about nutrition and healthy eating.
She said the daycare has its own kitchen, where healthy meals and snacks are prepared in accordance with Canada’s Food Guide.
Realizing that physical activity goes hand-in-hand with healthy eating, the daycare also involves the children in numerous outdoor activities, ranging from skiing to snowshoeing, Piercey said.
“The children are outside every day, twice a day. They love going through the woods with their snowshoes,” she said.
Piercey said being mindful of nutrition at the daycare has also made her more aware of the nutritional needs of her own family, especially her 11-year-old son, Curtis.
“(Curtis) needs a healthy breakfast to start the day which, at times, can be quite a long day with school and after school sports. ... And we not only try to model healthy eating, but also physical activity,” Piercey said.
Her son just finished his hockey season, and will soon start kickboxing, she said.
It’s also important for her family to eat a meal together every day, she said, which they usually do at suppertime.
Since growing lettuce at the daycare, Piercey has started growing green onion at home to use when preparing her family's meals.
“It’s only green onion, but it’s a start. ... And there’s something to be said for eating something you’ve grown. You feel like you’ve accomplished something,” she said.
As for the hydroponic kit initiative at the daycare, Stepping Stones would definitely be interested in growing more produce, Piercey said.
“Anything to help with the children’s health, we will do,” she said.
Nutrition Month unlocks the potential of food
March is Nutrition Month. Dietitians of Canada have chosen the theme Unlock the Potential of Food. With the release of the new Canada’s Food Guide this year, March is a perfect time to look at your family’s eating habits and make some healthy choices. The new food guide takes a modern approach to sharing healthy eating messages with mobile-friendly resources. Healthy eating is more than the foods you eat. Instead of food groups, number of servings and serving sizes, the new guide shows examples of what to eat and how to eat, including cooking more often and eating meals with others.
Parents can help develop healthy eating habits in children by teaching them to shop and cook. Many parents don’t realize it’s fun and rewarding to involve children in meal preparation. Starting from a young age, inspiring children to shop, cook and prepare food can set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. Very young children like to explore, so cooking with a two or three-year-old can be a simple as washing fruits and vegetables in the sink or adding prepared items to dishes (like chopped peppers to a casserole).
By the time they are six to eight years old they can follow simple steps for recipes and are able to share and take turns.
They can start to use simple kitchen equipment like a cheese grater, toaster, blender or can opener after you show them how to do so safely. They can make a grocery list including healthy snacks. Eight- to twelve-year-old children can understand how to use appliances safely. They can use a knife with easy-to-cut foods (cooked meats, cheese, tofu, breads), use the microwave with your help, or make their own school lunch.
Teens can follow more complicated recipes or assemble ingredients. They can also be in charge of making one meal per week in addition to making their lunch. Tips for cooking together with children:
Pick a recipe and shop together. Children need to be part of the plan from the beginning, and it helps if they choose and prepare something.
Keep it fun. Make a theme night or turn your kitchen into a restaurant.
Be a role model. Try a new food, describe the flavour and be adventurous to inspire your kids to do the same.
Don’t worry about the mess. Spills happen, and it’s all part of learning.
Food brings families and friends together. When eating together as a family, children eat more vegetables, fruit and milk, and drink less sugar-sweetened beverages. Use family meal times to connect. Talk to those around you and share what is going on in everyone’s life. If you put away distractions like the TV or electronics, it will help you be mindful of your food choices. Role modeling by parents is an important aspect of family meals and serves to promote better eating habits in children when parents make healthy choices.
Sharing family meals doesn’t only mean supper. If your evening schedule is hectic, share breakfast meals or have brunch together on the weekends. Most studies done on the benefits of family meals start with sharing at least four meals together per week. They all count.
The benefits of cooking and eating together will stay with your children as they grow. By the time they leave home, they will have all the food skills they need to keep eating healthily for a lifetime.
Check out Canada.ca/FoodGuide to get this information at your fingertips. You can also find a printer-friendly Food Guide Snapshot on the website.
Dietitians are passionate about the potential of food to enhance lives and improve health. They look beyond fads and gimmicks to deliver reliable, life-changing advice. It’s easier than ever to speak with a registered dietitian in Newfoundland and Labrador. Dial-a-Dietitian by calling 811.
Lesley French is a registered dietitian and regional nutritionist with Western Health.