From field to fork – helping children connect food with the world around them

In an age where convenience food is king and most food shopping is done in supermarkets, it can be easy to forget how the food we eat connects with the world around us.

Helping children develop an early understanding of the journey from ‘field to fork’ allows them to learn how the food on their plate can impact not only on their own wellbeing, but the wellbeing of the natural world and wildlife.

Soil Association’s Food for Life provides advice and guidance on how to bring food and food education together. Jo Wild shares her thoughts on how you can join up activities to make the most of food and sustainable learning.

Sowing the seeds of learning

An edible garden is an ideal way to help children make the first connection between the food they eat and the world around them. Children of any age can learn to grow food, so why not instil a love for it when they are very young. Growing food encourages an awareness of healthier diets and allows them to experience many new shapes, colours and textures.

As well as practical skills, growing can support many areas of learning including language and numeracy skills. It gives the opportunity for children to build their understanding of the world through hands-on activities as well as linking it to wider learning, such as how food is grown and eaten in different communities and parts of the world.

It also gives both an environment and the materials for a range of expressive arts and design. Here are some ideas for activities that link arts and the garden:

  • Exploring garden colours
  • Drawing and painting plants, fruit and vegetables from the garden
  • Fruit and vegetable printing
  • Using parts of plants for creative projects e.g. collages, displays, land art
  • Exploring taste, smell and textures of different fruit and vegetables
  • Exploring smells and textures of compost, sand and soil
  • Designing and making a scarecrow
  • Making a bug hotel
  • Making a musical washing line to deter pests

Healthy gardening

Your home, nursery or school garden is your own little patch of the world to look after and growing organically is better for the environment, plants and wildlife. Composting is fundamental to good gardening, it recycles waste, saves resources and provides a wonderful end product that improves soil and provides fertiliser. By growing organically and teaching children about composting and controlling pests naturally, you are helping them to develop an understanding of how to keep the world around them healthy from an early age.

Linking to the wider community

Visiting local farms, food producers, markets or shops helps children make the connection between where their food comes from and how it is produced. A farm visit can be an exciting setting for children – storytelling, counting games, treasure hunts and learning about animals all fit well into a farm visit session.

Connecting the garden to the lunch table

Cooking using home grown produce allows children to develop a strong understanding of the relationship between the food they eat and nature. It encourages them to taste new foods, helps them understand the importance of minimising waste and gives ingredients a value, as they have experienced the time and care that it has taken to grow them.

Cooking activities don’t need a huge amount of expensive equipment. You can begin by teaching basic skills that encourage young children to use their hands to:

  • Peel (bananas, satsumas, spring onions, hardboiled eggs)
  • Tear (salad leaves, herbs)
  • Mix (salad leaves, dressings, muffins)
  • Portion (cheese, fillings, bread dough)
  • Sprinkle (herbs, pepper, cheese)
  • Arrange (threading fruit onto skewers)
  • Scoop (removing seeds from a melon or the soft inside of a jacket potato)
  • Mash (potato, banana)
  • Roll (small pieces of dough)
  • Knead (bread dough)

Completing the circle

The final stage of the journey from field to fork is the food that you serve.

Preparing fresh meals and snacks from unprocessed ingredients means that you know exactly what is going into them. Not only does this make it easier to create balanced dishes that meet nutritional guidelines, you can chose ingredients that are sustainably sourced and produced.

Farm assured, RSPCA assured and organic meat reassures you that it is both traceable back to where it was produced and good for animal welfare. Not buying fish that is on the Marine Conservation Societies ‘Fish to Avoid’ list supports more sustainable fishing practices. Eggs that are from free range or organic hens are better for animal welfare. Dishes that incorporate seasonal produce are not only a great way to reduce food miles, but can make sourcing local produce more affordable.

ACTIVITY: Growing at home – strawberry wellies

If you have some old wellies lying around, don’t throw them away – they are a fun container for growing strawberries and lots of other plants in small spaces

What you need:

  • Old wellies
  • Gravel or stones
  • Compost
  • Strawberry plants 

A brilliant story to introduce this activity with is The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and The Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood.

TIP: For extra drainage put a few holes in the bottom of the wellies. You could also cut a couple of extra slits into the sides of each welly to fit more plants in.

  1. Put a few stones or some gravel in the foot of the welly for drainage (it also helps the welly to keep standing by adding weight to the base).
  2. Fill the welly with some potting compost, to just below you first slit (or the top). Pop a strawberry plant in, add some more compost to the next slit, add another plant and so on, to about 3cm below the top of the welly. Finally, add your last plant.
  3. Sprinkle some gravel on top of the compost. This helps to reduce water loss in hot weather and stops compost spilling when it is watered. By finishing 3cm below the top you allow space for watering.
  4. Watch your wellies grow!