Educating children about seasonal food has far-reaching benefits as not only does it help children learn more about where food comes from, it also links with other skills such as time, weather and the seasons. It’s important for children to understand that fruit and vegetables naturally grow, ripen and are best eaten during certain seasons each year. Their taste and nutrition value is considered to be at their highest when they are in season, which is a concept that can be challenging for children to understand when modern farming, technology and transport means fruits and vegetables have year round availability in our supermarkets. Eating seasonally also supports local farmers and suppliers and ensures greater variety in our diets.
Using a range of different mediums can help to engage children and reinforce key messages about food seasonality. As an early years practitioner, the concept of seasonality can be introduced and reinforced using song, visuals, stories and a wide range of practical activities.
A calendar of foods in season is a great visual tool and can highlight the foods that are optimal each month. As a basic overview, key seasonal foods by term include:
Autumn Term: This is the best time of year to talk about courgettes, blackberries, apples, sweetcorn, runner beans, potatoes, red and white cabbage and Brussel sprouts.
Spring Term: In season during the spring are carrots, kale, leeks, savoy cabbage, spring cabbage and cauliflower.
Summer Term: This time of year in season are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, plums, lettuce, cucumber, broad beans and peas.
There are a number of different songs and nursery rhymes about food that can be linked to seasonal produce. These include:
-Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow
-Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush
-One Potato, Two Potato
-The Farmer in the Dell
There are also a vast range of stories that can be used to discuss seasonality and also how foods grow. Some examples include:
-The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
-The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and The Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood
-Oliver’s Vegetables by Vivian French and Alison Bartlett
-Oliver’s Fruit Salad by Vivian French and Alison Bartlett
-The Ugly Vegetables (link to the Chinese New Year) by Grace Lin
-Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White and Megan Lloyd
-Jack and the Beanstalk
Organising experiences around food are also great opportunities to discuss when foods are in season. Visiting a farmers’ market or local farm shop either as an organisation or encouraging parents to take their children can be a perfect opportunity to talk about availability of different foods. Encouraging children to look at labels to see where their food has come from can link in well with geography and understanding the world. Parents can also do this with children in the supermarket and opt for food grown in the UK.
Utilising local expertise is also worthwhile, especially if you have a local farm shop or established allotments locally. Linking up for a monthly video chat with someone to talk about what’s being grown that month and what’s ripe and ready to eat can be fun for the children. Opportunities to taste are also ideal and if children can grow, pick and/or prepare the food themselves, their understanding becomes far more concrete. The experience of planting carrots, watching them grow, pulling them from the ground, touching and washing them and then eating them is one many children love.
If, as an early years setting, you have limited outdoor space then growing some fruit and vegetables in pots can work well. Tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes and blueberries can be grown in a small space and seeds such as runner/broad beans can also be grown in the setting and then sent home.
Other practical ideas include visiting a ‘Pick your Own’ farm during the summer term, getting out in nature during the Autumn to take children blackberry picking and handling, preparing and eating seasonal food. Opportunities include:
-Shelling peas and making a mashed pea and mint dip for a snack, serve with oat cakes
-Making fruit leathers by blending blackberries with mint to make a puree and bake at a low temperature in the oven for 5 hours
-Juicing fresh apples
-Making pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie
-Trying sauerkraut with red and white cabbage
-Making cauliflower cheese
-Making kale chips
-Using Brussel sprouts and potatoes for printing
About the author
The Food Teacher, Katharine Tate, has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years. Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. Katharine also presents The Food Teacher show on UK Health Radio where she discusses the importance of food for health and wellbeing.
She has published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and the award-winning ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’. Look out for The Food Teacher at Food Festivals and events throughout the country during 2016.