If you ever want to ruin your mood, just look at some of the statistics on how much food humans waste. Approximately one-third of the world’s food supply is wasted each year, and when we have 690 million hungry people worldwide, that kind of waste has a devastating human cost.
However, all is not lost, at least not if we teach our children good habits when it comes to food use. By modeling anti-food waste practices for kids, we can teach them to handle food responsibly and think about the ways we all impact our environment. Here are seven good food preservation practices to teach children from an early age.
Start an organic compost garbage can.
Composting is a great way to put kitchen scraps to good use, and it can be a fun family project to build and maintain one. It’s also great for gardening, making it an excellent introduction to something like a summer vegetable garden, where you can talk to the kids about how we can reuse resources for a more sustainable lifestyle.
Remember to teach the kids what goes into the compost. (Vegetables, grains, coffee grounds, yes! Meat and bones, no!) Although with today’s advances in compostable plastic, you can even get things like a compostable phone case to feed your garbage can and reduce your plastic waste all at the same time.
Turn food preservation into a game.
When it comes to cleaning dishes and other food waste issues , turning it into a game can be a great way to communicate the importance to kids. For the easiest solution, look at some of the board game style food trays available online for toddlers that create a Candy Land from your veggies to your dessert.
But there are also many eating games that you don’t need any special equipment for. Set up certain foods that give your kids superhero powers (like super strength for broccoli or X-ray vision for carrots) or have them pretend to be an animal that eats the food on their plate.
Cook with ugly fruits and vegetables.
Tons of fruits and vegetables are thrown away because they don’t look perfect. Many grocery stores, farmers markets and subscription services now sell this “ugly” produce at reduced prices, which has several benefits. One obvious one is that it can provide you with great produce for less, which any parent trying to stretch the grocery budget will appreciate.
Second, it can also provide you with a valuable teachable moment with your children about why you shouldn’t judge based on appearance. Once you get your kids used to ugly produce, they may even get a kick out of looking at an oddly shaped bell pepper or a slightly strange pumpkin.
Put away food that kids don’t finish.
It’s always frustrating to throw a serving of food in the trash when your child says he’s full. So why throw it away? If there’s enough left for a decent portion, pack it in a food storage container and save it for later.
That way, if your child starts looking for an after-dinner snack an hour later, you have a ready-made option that will save you some exasperation. If things take a turn for the worse, you can put it in the compost later if it’s compostable. Or use the food again to cook a new meal and show your kids how you turned leftovers into tasty food.
Don’t let snack time be meal time.
Kids eating too many snacks before dinner is a sure path to appetite loss, which can lead to food waste at the table. Instead, work to limit kids’ snacking and focus on getting them to eat a full, healthy-sized portion when it’s time to eat.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with eating healthy snacks, and kids should understand that, too. The point is to reduce thoughtless food use that can cause more food to go to waste later. Kids need to understand that their own eating habits are part of a system that, even if an individual has only a small effect, ultimately determines whether people around the world eat enough.
Meal prep things that your picky eater likes.
When you finally find a healthy food that a picky child likes, take the opportunity to hit the jackpot and take the time to prepare some meals. If you use reasonable portion sizes, you’ll help children have a consistent experience of eating enough without wasting anything.
This is an especially good idea if you have difficulty preparing lunches in the morning rush. Spread out some nutritionally balanced compromise meals (a bag of carrot sticks here, a fruit roll there) and it will make it easier to pack the right foods in the right portions every time.
Model sustainability and the three Rs in your own lifestyle.
How many of us can say we actually practice what we preach when it comes to reduce, reuse and recycle? When children see adults let vegetables rot or throw away uneaten food, they can’t help but pick up the habits. That’s why we parents need to model sustainability and responsible food use in our own lifestyles.
The good news is that today’s world provides you with many opportunities to live a less wasteful lifestyle, especially when it comes to the use of consumer products. Here are just a few of the ways you can model a more sustainable consumer lifestyle:
- Get a compostable case for your smartphone.
- Buy food from farmers’ markets, unpackaged or in recyclable containers.
- Use resealable containers to store food instead of plastic wrappers
- Avoid single-use plastics, such as coffee capsules, whenever possible.
- Look for products packaged in compostable materials when you must use disposable plastic.
The continued health of our food supply depends on teaching the next generation to use it with respect. When more people work together to teach their children good eating habits, fewer people will go hungry.