By Naomi Desilets, Phase II Fellow
Studies show children must have 10-15 interactions with a new food before the child begins to prefer a new food or increase their consumption. I’m frequently reminding myself of this fact to avoid getting discouraged after days when I have another rejected cucumber thrown at me by a toddler not wanting to eat anything green. Or after getting oatmeal smushed in my hair. Or watching a child have a meltdown because he, “doesn’t want to eat a sweet potato” despite no sweet potato being in sight or on the menu that week. Working with kids is a messy business. It constantly leaves me baffled and confused, but it is oh so rewarding.
For about 5 minutes every day everything is calm and picture perfect. The rest of the time it feels like trying to herd cats.
Being at home more due to COVID-19, I’ve had more time to peruse Pinterest to get ideas for meals and gardening for the kids. Don’t get me wrong, Pinterest is great, and I’ve gathered lots of great ideas, but it also makes me (and I’m sure lots of other people) think that things should look a certain way. Meals should be arranged artistically on a plate and cut into fun shapes. You begin to think that just maybe when you plant seeds the kids will take turns and be excited to learn about growing their own garden. Or you dare to dream that if they help make a healthy snack, the picky eaters of the group might come to like a food they once rejected. But things seldom turn out like the pictures on Pinterest or those “Mommy and me” blogs that say, “you too can recreate this Martha Stewart inspired moment with your kids.”
One of the goals for my year as a Phase II fellow has been to implement a “garden to table” curriculum at the Highland Children’s House, involving young children in the process of how their food is made and grown. Before COVID, I had the great plan to teach the kids about baking bread and the wonders of yeast. The kids would help grind the wheat in our grain mill, knead the dough, watch it rise, make homemade butter to go on top, and finally enjoy the fruits of our labor. On paper it looked like the perfect plan. We would read The Little Red Hen, sing a little song, and eat hot fresh buttery bread. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s just say we never had enough flour to make bread. Instead the classroom looked like there had been a snowstorm of flour. The flour that didn’t end up all over me ended up on the floor. There should be a disclaimer on all Pinterest posts that reads, Warning: Results may vary. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go according to plan. Or another one that I really need: There is only so much you can prepare for by reading a book.
But all the less than picture-perfect moments make the times when things go well (usually by complete accident) all the more rewarding. Whether in the kitchen or out in the garden I’ve learned to search for spontaneous teachable moments, celebrate the little victories, and accept the fact that I’m going to leave work covered in a lot of unidentifiable goo and dirt.
As spring rolls in and our raised beds are being put into place, I’m anticipating the usual amount of chaos to resume as we reopen to the public. I’m sure without a doubt that quite a few plants that I’ve been tending to will get pulled out of the ground like a weed. Kids are gonna put things in their mouths that are definitely not meant to be edible. There is gonna be fighting over who gets to use the elephant-shaped watering can first. But I’m also anticipating the kids’ excitement to harvest peas and pull carrots out of the ground. I’m envisioning their amazement about all the cool bugs and insects they find and watching compost break down into soil. I can’t help but get caught up in their excitement too, no matter if things happen according to plan or not.