In the Kitchen
No parent or student should underestimate the importance of a healthy, balanced diet to successful schooling. Anyone who has tried to think – especially to learn something new – on an empty stomach, or with inadequate vitamins and minerals coursing through their veins, knows that good food is absolutely essential to effective learning! It may be a good time to take a look at your kitchen and give it its due respect: this room is a vital part of any homeschool. In addition, it is a place where both scientific and artistic exploration can take place.
There are many ways to eat in a balanced, healthy way – all of which are equally good. Every family has favourite recipes and preferred times and ways of eating, just as we all have specific, personal approaches to schooling. In Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, ‘Eat Food, Mostly Plants’, he points out that the way a person prepares food, and what type of food they eat, is one of the last things they will change when they are immersed in a new culture. Since eating habits are so difficult to break, it is a good idea to start making good habits early on just as homeschooling parents can make good schooling habits a part of their children’s lives right from the start. Schedules may change, subjects and specific textbooks and methods may come and go, but the fundamental attitude toward schooling that parents instill in their child is something that will stay with them forever. Likewise, teaching young children the importance and pleasure of eating well will give them the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
Young students benefit from learning about the food groups and about where food comes from (not from a bag or a store, but from a farm or a bakery!). The more anyone knows about how to combine foods effectively, and to be sure that they are eating adequate carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins, not to mention healthy oils and low-sugar desserts, the better prepared they are to nourish themselves and succeed at whatever they do. When young people learn to appreciate the difference in taste between a real apple and a piece of apple-flavoured candy, they will easily identify what is real food and what is simply food-flavoured. And, when they are aware of the results of eating a real apple (a perfect blend of natural sugar and fibre, vitamins and tasty juices) versus that apple-flavoured candy (made from undiluted refined sugar and artificial colours which assault the brain, pancreas and immune system), they will be prepared to make informed choices.
Of course, nothing speaks more loudly than setting a good example.
When it comes to cooking and eating, parents should congratulate themselves on time spent planning, preparing and enjoying regular healthy meals and snacks. If it is possible, encourage children of all ages to help in the purchasing or preparation of food. When it is time to eat, borrow a bit of cultural wisdom from the French, and enjoy your meal! Talk about what you like and dislike, discuss flavours and textures, and allow yourself to be picky – even if you can’t always treat that finicky palate to what it wants most. Enjoying food is a part of many ancient cultures, and numerous contemporary studies have linked a lack of slow, thoughtful eating to a tendency to overeat. When the kitchen is treated as an important and happy place, from which tasty, nourishing sustenance emerges, a growing child will easily learn to respect and enjoy eating properly.
The kitchen can also be appreciated as a rather exciting laboratory. Chemical reactions take place daily on its humble counter, in the fridge and on the stove. Dramatic developments on a microscopic level continually occur on both washed and unwashed surfaces . . . even the floor. Machinery is put to use, from the unglamorous fridge and stove (which could perhaps benefit from some renewed appreciation – imagine life without these great inventions!) to the more exotic blender and microwave. Every kitchen has a stash of excellent tools, from cutlery to sharp knives, weirdly shaped mixing devices and shredders, to items such as zip-lock bags (neat!) and aluminum foil. Odours are emitted, acids and alkaloids clash, proteins coagulate and forever give up their previous state; in short, there is plenty of food, not only for the stomach but also for the imagination and the curious scientist, in any kitchen, however humble it may be!
Happily for all of us, there are many resources both for parents in search of new and delicious healthy recipes for their families, and for young people who may be integrating science, art and math into their overall appreciation of the kitchen. You may even want to watch a movie that encourages the appreciation of good food – there are plenty to choose from, from the digitally-animated ‘Ratatouille’ for younger children to the French-language ‘Comme Un Chef’ for teens. Even drawing a piece of fruit can become an exercise in food appreciation; who knew the skin of an apple contained so many different hues? Look to your kitchen and be inspired!
Elise Kennedy is the author of Canadian Winter Homeschool Materials. She lives in Montreal, Canada, where she homeschools her 12-year old daughter. She and her husband Pierre also practice alternative medicine (in particular, breathing methods). Elise has taught a variety of subjects in numerous settings, and is delighted to share her original homeschool materials on Currclick.
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