Does your child know where her food comes from? Why not ask? A fun set of questions asked regularly can help kick start thinking about the source of our food. This is just the beginning of further explorations into how our food is grown, prepared, and consequences for our health. There are many different things we eat, so before the topic becomes overwhelming, start at the beginning. Deconstruct a favorite food. Today’s example is a BLT or bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. This makes me hungry just thinking about it.
If you do not like or do not eat BLT’s, substitute an alternative food. You can still use the following as a template for how to develop questions and explore the answers. The choice of bacon may be controversial for some as most nutritionists suggest bacon only as a treat rather than a regular protein source for children. The high fat content, cholesterol and the nitrates most bacon contains, along with other processed meats such as bologna, are what worry folks. I selected a BLT because of the combination of ingredients and the fact that bacon, because of its name, is not obviously from pigs the way a chicken sandwich can be linked back to, well a chicken. So, this felt like a good place to begin exploring the source of what is on our plates to be eaten.
What do the letters BLT stand for?
What ingredients make up a BLT?
Where do those ingredients come from?
Can I help to make my sandwich?
If you already have the individual ingredients for a BLT on hand, take them out of your refrigerator and let your child take a closer look. If not, make a list and next time you go to the grocery store purchase those items.
Examine these ingredients with a magnifying glass or hand lens. Take a close look at a slice of bread. If you are using white bread, discuss the uniformity of the color and consistency. If using a whole wheat product, can your child see differences in color or texture in a slice? What is interesting about looking at a tomato up close? Seeds, different compartments or sections, differences in the texture of the skin and the pulp are all potentially relevant observations. You think lettuce is lackluster? Take a closer look. Your child may see veins, variations in color, or plenty of evidence of how the plant grew in and then on the ground.
Taste, smell and touch these ingredients. Find the words to describe these sensations. Listening is a little trickier, but bacon when cooking makes some interesting sounds. Just make sure that listening to cooking bacon is safe and that little ears or faces do not get to close to grease splatters.
Examine some mayonnaise on a utensil. What do you see? Now, look at the list of ingredients. Can you see or taste the egg or oil that are the major ingredients? What happened to them? (If you have the time or energy, you can make your own mayonnaise and compare results of homemade with store bought. Making mayonnaise is an interesting process as the liquid oil when whisked with the eggs becomes a solid).
Compare and Contrast
If have different types of breads, tomatoes, lettuces, and even bacon brands in your household, take some time to compare these. If not, then next time your child accompanies you to the grocery store ask him to find and examine different types of lettuce (butter, Romaine, iceberg), tomatoes (heirloom, cherry, plum), breads (white, wheat, French, sourdough, cinnamon swirls), and bacons (pork and turkey). What differences are noticeable? Again find the language to describe how things look or feel different. (The differences between different types of breads are complex and diverse and I will save comparisons and more in-depth information for a separate post).
Tomatoes can come in different colors, or red, orange, green and yellow. I have even seen some with more of a purple tinge. If you have the opportunity to see these different colored tomatoes, invite your child to name the color. A next step, if she shows interest, is to name other vegetables that are red, orange, green or yellow. Find pictures of fruits and vegetables in magazines, cut these out and paste onto index cards. These pictures can be categorized across a variety of dimensions, starting with color.
Compare where things come from. Yes, all of these ingredients came from the grocery store, but how did they get to your local grocery store or farmer’s market, and how were they produced….All of these ingredients were grown, including the pigs or turkeys from which we get our bacon. But you can explore the variations in the paths of how something is grown. The wheat or grains for the bread, the tomatoes, and the lettuce all started as seeds planted in the ground. With sunlight, nutrients, and water, these seeds grew into the plants that are now in your kitchen. But while the tomatoes and lettuce leaves are still living plants, the bread was produced from processed grains, combined with other ingredients and baked.
Most tomatoes grow on vines or small plants. Carrots are roots, broccoli is a flower, lettuce is a leaf. Explore how other fruits and veggies grow and compare them as roots, leaves, flowers, stems (asparagus), or fruits. Find pictures of various fruits and vegetables, including different kinds of tomatoes. Glue these to index cards so that they can be sorted or classified as fruits versus vegetables, by preference (like or can’t stand), by part of the plant (stem, root, flower, etc.)
What other foods or products are made from tomatoes? Think ketchup, salsas, pizza sauce, tomato sauces, and tomato soups. List and compare and contrast how these products might be made, which are favorites or just marvel at the amount of tomato product in our diets.
Compare the taste of fresh, prepared sauces, juice, dried, or frozen tomatoes.
Tomatoes come in all different sizes. Measure the circumference of a tomato or how big it is around. You could use a seamstress’ measure that would allow one to wrap it around the tomato’s “waist,” or use a string keeping track of the amount around, and then lay it flat next to a ruler.
Weigh different tomatoes. If you have multiple tomatoes on hand, guess which one will weigh more.
Weigh slices of bread, lettuce leaves, a tablespoon of mayonnaise. Weigh the finished sandwich, take a bite and weigh again.
How much mayonnaise are you using on your sandwich? What does a teaspoon of mayo look like? Is that enough or do you need more? What do two teaspoons look like? Three teaspoons equal a tablespoon. Is this the right amount? You may want to write down the equations that represent these measurements, or 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon = 1 tablespoon.
How many slices of tomatoes or bacon do you put on each sandwich? If making more than one sandwich, how many slices will you need altogether? How many slices of bread would you need if making 1, 5, 10, 15, or 20 sandwiches? Depending on your child’s age, here is a real-life example for practicing those multiplication tables.
With older children, you may want to ask about the prices of various ingredients in the grocery store. Which tomatoes cost more per pound? If you purchased two pounds, what will it cost? Why might some kinds of bacon cost more per weight than others?
Compare the amounts of frozen, fresh, dried or juice versions of tomatoes. If you have a cup of each, do they weigh the same? Which weighs more and why?
Not all juices count the same way toward meeting our daily nutritional requirements. Check the labels on the juices you serve in your household. Is it 100%, 10% or something in between? With older children, this may be an easy and everyday example of the concept of percentages.
Cook your bacon in the microwave, in the oven, or in a frying pan. Which do you or other family members prefer?
Bake your own bread.
Grow your own lettuce and/or tomatoes.
Try variations of the sandwich to determine which you like best. Leave out the mayo, the tomatoes, lettuce or bacon. Preferences? Add other ingredients, like cucumbers, mustard, avocado, pickles, or whatever you like as long as the sandwich is not so repulsive that it isn’t eaten and food goes to waste. Take a poll of family and friends. What is their favorite version of a BLT, or rank a BLT as compared to a peanut butter and jelly, a roast beef or tuna salad sandwich? Graph the results.
Look up where the words, bacon, lettuce, tomato, bread or mayonnaise come from. Tomato has an interesting derivation. It was originally an Aztec word or tomati meaning round and plump! Look up where Peru is. Tomatoes like potatoes, corn, and peppers are new world food. That is, these ingredients were not part of the European diet until early explorers brought them home on their return trips probably around the 16th century. There is some controversy about who introduced them first, whether it is Spanish Conquistadors, Christopher Columbus, or Jesuit priests. Explore where other foods came from historically.
Tomatoes are technically a fruit, but somewhere along the line, an official declared that they would be classified as vegetables in culinary use. Examine other fruits or what makes a fruit a fruit (seeds).
Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin C. Explore how vitamin C helps us grow and stay healthy. What other fruits and veggies are rich in vitamin C?
Explore how many fruits and veggies you child should eat in a day. In other words, what are the recommended nutritional guidelines (see http://www.choosemyplate.gov/about for more information)? This is not the food chart or pyramid that you probably are familiar with so take some time to “digest” these new guidelines.
For children ages 4 – 8 the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables are a cup and a half of each. Juices count as a serving. So plan a day of menus to reach this goal or keep a food diary with your child measuring the amounts of both fruits and vegetables consumed.
Make a sandwich together and enjoy the process and company.