by Aanchal Tyagi
“I love to boil eggs, Mom,” says my three-year-old. She knows that when she feels like having boiled eggs, she must first get eggs from the fridge, gently carry them to the kitchen, fill a saucepan with water, dunk the eggs in it, and then call an adult for the last two steps of lighting the stove and putting the saucepan on. We often let her sit with us when I or her dad are cooking, and we talk about each ingredient and spice that’s going into our food. She also knows that we must wait for a lemon to turn yellow in our balcony garden before we can have lemonade and that we can only pluck our tomatoes and pomegranates once they’ve turned red. She often helps to water our plants, harvest the small crops of vegetables and fruits we get, and also has a few tiny pots of her own to look after.
In the winter before our daughter turned two, we’d driven past the beautiful mustard fields that surround Delhi. Of course, we stopped and took pictures of what used to be commonplace and is now almost exotic. And, the next time we cooked together, we used mustard seeds, and reminded her of the “bootiful l’ello flaars” we’d seen.
I believe that children will naturally have a healthy relationship with food when they know where it comes from, and how it goes from the farm to our dining table. But ever-growing urban spaces are shrinking opportunities for our children to witness the magic of a farm. My mother grew up in homes where vegetables grew in the backyard, and sometimes, a wheat crop in parts of my grandmother’s front lawn. I grew up, while not as lucky, but still playing in the shade of a lemon tree at home. My husband’s childhood home was surrounded by old fruit trees. Our daughter, sadly, must make do with a tiny balcony garden that has miniature vegetables and fruits growing in pots.
Plant a garden — fields, if you can — but, at least a garden. The planet will thank you for it, as will your grandchildren.
When you travel during your children’s school holidays, point out the fields you see on the way. Stop and ask farmers you meet about the crops they grow. And, the next time you’re having millets (ragi) dosas or pancakes for breakfast, you’ll be amazed at the questions about the ragi fields you drove past on your last holiday. Wait for your children to also connect the dots the next time they see ‘Shimla apples’ or ‘Dehradun basmati’ in your neighborhood store. Take them along on your weekly grocery rounds. Let them pick the fruits they’ll eat, and the vegetables they’ll help to cook.
Cook together. Let children touch, taste and explore their food before it gets to their plate.
Trust your kids to know not to go near a flame, teach them respect for sharp objects like knives, and model cooking as an important life-skill for boys and girls. (Especially, boys! Your daughter-in-law will thank you for it one day.) Be prepared with answers for the unending questions you know will follow, and you’ll soon see a new-found interest in the food on their plates.
Get books you can read together about how tiny seeds grow into huge trees, and where our food comes from. ‘A Tiny Seed’ by Eric Carle, and ‘How A Seed Grows’ by Helene J. Jordan and Loretta Krupinski, are a great place to start for young children.
To a child, apples come from the market, dal comes from a bowl on the table, and eggs come from that shelf in the refrigerator door. But, imagine the magic of having more context for the food they eat. Think of the excitement of shelling peas, and then helping to cook them. And then, fantasize about not needing to chase your child at every meal-time.
About Aanchal Tyagi: She is a book-hoarding, Kindle-reading, compulsively-Instagramming, freelancing media professional, and mother to a threenager.