Make the farmers market a family field trip

Eating well - August 2005

 
 

Virginia Van Vynckt

 

You do take your children along when you visit the farmers markets and produce markets on the weekend, right?

As tempting as it may be to leave them home while you sniff the melons and squeeze the tomatoes, a tour through the world of fresh produce is a great way for kids to learn more about fruits and vegetables, and where their food comes from. Making produce shopping a special occasion may even encourage them to eat more veggies.

If they help pick out the corn, they might be more willing to husk it. (Every August, I adopt the view that children are put on this earth to husk corn.)

And a good farmers or produce market may expose them to fruits and vegetables they may not have tried. My children were in heaven the first time they tasted a fresh lichee—not to mention how intrigued they were by its bumpy, red “overcoat.” Oyster mushrooms, tiny eggplants, potatoes in rainbow hues, striped tomatoes—all can be found at one produce venue or another.

August is prime time at the local farmers and produce markets. Nearly every Chicago neighborhood and suburb has a weekend farmers market. (For a list, visit www.suntimes.com/special_sections/summer/markets.html.) Communities that don’t have seasonal farmers markets often have marvelous year-round produce markets. Two of my personal favorites are Jerry’s Fruit and Garden Center in Niles, and Caputo’s Fresh Market in Elmwood Park, Addison, Hanover Park and Bloomingdale.

August is prime time for many fruits and veggies, including:

August is prime time for many fruits and veggies, including: Apples (early varieties) Artichokes Beans Blueberries Cauliflower Corn Cucumbers Melons Okra Peaches Peppers (sweet and hot) Raspberries Summer squash and zucchini

 

While at the market, teach your children how to choose a melon, why eating vegetables in different colors is important and why locally grown, seasonal produce is best (it tastes great, for one thing).

If organic produce is important to you, explain to your children why, and buy only organic. Many area farmers markets and produce stands feature organic as well as “regular” produce. (Check out www.localharvest.org for local organic farms and markets.)

Even if seasonal produce is conventionally grown, it’s sold fresher and not traveling as far, which means it won’t be coated or sprayed with anti-spoiling agents such as fungicide-containing waxes.

If you’re traveling on vacation, make it a point to hit the roadside stands on the way home, filling up on blueberries or peaches or sweet corn or just-off-the-vine tomatoes. Our family came back from Michigan recently with 10 pounds of some of the best cherries I’ve ever tasted.

And if you’re feeling really ambitious, visit a pick-your-own farm. Berries and apples are popular pick-your-own crops. A good place to find a nearby area farm is www.pickyourown.org. Most of the farms also sell pre-picked crops, in case your child finds the idea of picking produce more appealing than the reality.

Call the farm first for picking conditions, requirements (such as whether you need to bring your own containers) and other information.

Once you get your bounty home, try this recipe, which is simple enough for older kids to make on their own, or for younger kids to help with.

 

Virginia Van Vynckt, mother of two, has written extensively about food and nutrition, and is the author of Feed Your Kids Right the Lazy Way.

1 cup fresh blueberries 1 (6- to 8-ounce) container low-fat or nonfat blueberry yogurt 1 to 1½ cups blueberry or orange juice, as needed ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract, or a pinch of cinnamon Wash the berries. For an icier, colder smoothie, freeze the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet until partially frozen, about 30 to 45 minutes. This is optional. Place the berries in a blender with the yogurt, juice and vanilla. Blend on low speed until ingredients are just mixed, then switch to high speed and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve immediately. Makes 2 to 4 servings, depending on child’s age.

 
 







 
 
 
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