For many of us, summer just wouldn't be the same without frequent trips to one of our local farmers markets. Nowhere else can you find such an abundance and variety of seasonal produce, all fresh, local and overwhelmingly appetizing. But did you know that a simple trip to the farmers market could leave your child with a lot more than fresh fruits and vegetables?
Local farmers benefit from selling their produce directly to the consumer since profits aren't eaten up by shipping costs or middlemen. For consumers, the exceptional freshness, quality and variety of produce can't be beat. Fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness, just hours before being sold, and because they don't have to travel far to market, they arrive in prime condition. Not only that, but the prices are also extremely reasonable.
So what about the kids? Could they enjoy the experience as much as you do—and even learn from it? You bet. Farmers markets are a great place for kids to learn about wholesome foods and what things look like “straight from the garden.” It's also a great place to easily sneak in educational lessons about all sorts of things. Here's a sampling:
- Rainbow colors. Younger children can learn about different colors. Red, yellow and green bell peppers, purple summer squash and eggplants, dark green spinach and pale green kohlrabi, bright pink berries and orange carrots and apricots—fruits and veggies shine in a rainbow of colors, not to mention the bright flowers, golden honey and other treats that are usually standard farmers market fare.
- Numbers and opposites. Young children can also practice numbers in a very tangible way. Parents can ask children, “Can you put three zucchinis in the bag?” “How many carrots are in that bunch?” They can also learn about opposites. Concepts such as light and heavy, thick and thin, pale and dark, and short and long can be easily reinforced just by observing—and handling—various produce.
- Smart shopping and money math. Since farmers market vendors generally work with small amounts of cash, it's a great place for kids to learn some smart shopping techniques themselves. They can practice counting coins and small bills and adding them together to pay the vendor. They can also learn how to compare the items and their prices to find the best value for their money.
- Health. Farmers markets are a prime place to bring home a few lessons about health. Just about all of us, kids included, could benefit from adding more fresh fruits and veggies to our diets. Getting involved with the shopping of these items can make kids more excited to eat them. Make it fun by letting them pick one or two special items that they want to try. “I think parents underestimate their kids' interest in food,” says Joan Slage Blake, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “When shopping, let them choose among a small pool of options. Get them involved. Just sort of starting this, you'll find the kids have more vested interest in healthy eating."
Experiment by trying an unusual vegetable or item that you've never tried before. For just a few dollars you can indulge in some fun food experimentation. Chat with the vendors. They are usually happy to give tips on how to prepare a mysterious-looking vegetable, tell you about the unique variety of tomato you're buying, or let you know what time it was picked that morning.
So take some time and enjoy farmers markets this summer. Your child will gain a bounty of new knowledge and experiences, and you'll come home with some fresh and delicious fixings for dinner!