THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON PBS.
Have you ever noticed how happy everyone is at the farmers market? The vendors are smiling, the community comes together in a joyful way, and it just feels good to be there! Kids pick up on that energy and it can set the tone for meals later that day.
Here are four reasons that consistent exposure to the farmers market can encourage healthier eating habits with even the pickiest kids:
Kids are not only exposed to new foods, they are encouraged to explore! Start the day by helping kids color and decorate their own canvas bag to bring home treasures from a variety of vendors. When children have their own bag, they have more opportunities to pick up the produce, exploring the texture and fresh aroma of cut herbs, corn husks and unusual offerings like bundles of purple asparagus. Plus, they are more likely to ask questions about fruits and vegetables that are new to them, creating teachable moments about food and nutrition. Allowing children to pick out what they would like to try gives them ownership in the process, which carries over into mealtime.
Samples, samples, samples! Many of the growers at farmers markets encourage customers to buy new varieties of food by offering samples. Start by giving kids samples of produce varieties they already love, like a yellow or orange watermelon instead of the usual red. Even if a child doesn’t ever taste the sample he’s offered, just carrying the morsel in a paper cup or in his bare hands builds familiarity – the first step in food exploration!
Give kids an introduction to gardening. At many markets, you can also find an array of fruits and vegetables to grow at home. When children pick out their own plants to nurture, it not only fosters a sense of responsibility, but also raises their awareness of what a community farmer does on a daily basis to provide food for our tables.
Farmers markets are about family. Too often, we run into the grocery store for a quick bag of lettuce or a carton of orange juice, taking for granted that food is always available, day or night. In contrast, weekly family outings to the local farmers market are a special event for everyone to look forward to and enjoy. Turn the outing into a family game by planning a scavenger hunt to see how many colors of peppers you can find, or who can name the most varieties of tomatoes.