by Frances Largeman-Roth, RD
I didn’t grow up going to the farmers’ market. In my small town of 6,000 in Western New York, about the closest we came was a dusty, roadside fruit and vegetable stand. My mother did take me blueberry picking though, and I have fond memories of helping her fill up the bucket and then transfering our haul into berry-stained baskets. I loved picking those giant, deep cobalt jewels. I didn’t even mind that their juice stained my fingernails for days after. And of course, my reward was topping my cereal with the berries in mid-winter.
I’m hoping to help my daughter Willa and son Leo create their own food memories. Leo is still a baby, so he has time to come around, but Willa is three and about as curious as they come. I figure if I can train her to love trips to the farmers’ market now, she’ll always have a fondness for locally grown food, plus I’ll have a partner for those weekly scavenger hunts. And like most parents in my generation, I want her to have a respect for food and the land it comes from.
Willa already understands that food comes from farms and that plants start out as seeds—her preschool has done a great job of that. I’m still working on the seasonal connection though, and the market helps reinforce that. It’s also fun. Though as I recently experienced, the enjoyment that Willa gets out of coming to the market with me isn’t always connected to the food.
We usually head to the Greenmarket as a family—me, my husband Jon, Leo in the stroller, and Willa on the sidekick skateboard that’s cleverly connected to the stroller. But I decided that my daughter and I needed some quality bonding time, so I designated it a “just girls” trip and we headed out with reusable bags in tow.
Making our way from the southern end of Prospect Park near our home in Brooklyn, to the northern end, where the Greenmarket is, can be quite an adventure. On the way there, countless things distracted Willa, including several Little League baseball games, a tree that was begging to be climbed, a discarded yellow balloon, and several playgrounds. On no less than seven occasions I had to remind Willa that we were on the way to the market and that she could pick out a fruit and a vegetable once we were there. As our journey progressed, I could tell that this reward was losing its luster. But arrive we finally did.
Once there, we had to fight the droves of families out for a pre-Mother’s Day excursion. There was some great jazz music coming from the sidewalk near the market plaza and I promised Willa we would check it out as soon as we were done with our shopping. Willa picked out some fragrant strawberries, but when I asked her what kind of vegetables she wanted, she shrugged and said she wanted to go listen to the music. Fortunately we ran into my friend Carlyn and her son Caleb, who had just purchased a fat bag of sugar snap peas. “You love snap peas sweetie,” I said encouragingly to Willa, “Let’s get some of those.” “Yeah, OK,” she replied. Then we headed to listen to the jazz trio, where Willa twirled and shimmied to her heart’s content.
While I’ve realized that not every trip is going to turn out to be as fruitful or easy as I might like, I’m pretty sure that Willa is going to get some nugget out of it, even if her favorite part of our recent trip was the music and not the farm-fresh radishes.
Tips for bringing tykes to the market:
1. Don’t go hungry: Just like going grocery shopping on an empty stomach is a bad idea, so is heading to the farmers’ market without fueling up first. Little ones will be distracted, and you’ll be more easily annoyed. Have some breakfast first, and make sure to pack water bottles and a snack for the kids.
2. Choose a theme: After our recent trip, I realized that I should have made Willa’s produce selections more like an I Spy game. Next time I’m going to focus on a color, such as red, green, or purple, and ask her to pick out two items that are that hue. For older kids, you could ask them to pick out items that can be grilled, or foods that appear in their favorite books.
3. Talk it up beforehand: It’s helpful if everyone has the same expectations. Kids will be more likely to be patient while you’re shopping if they know there’s a trip to the playground or a playdate with a friend scheduled for afterwards.
4. Let them go wild: If your kid points to fava beans and says he wants to try them, but you know he’ll never touch them once you get home, give him the benefit of the doubt. Even if he turns up his nose, at least he’ll get to see how you prepare them, and that will make him more likely to try them the next time around. And parents—don’t be afraid to buy something you’ve never tried before. There’s plenty of info on that World Wide Web thing—and you can search for a tasty recipe with your child.
5. Ignore sticky fingers: I’m not encouraging shoplifting, but little kids will snatch stray berries and beans at the market. Instead of making a huge deal out of it, I consider it to be part of the adventure. I just try to buy something at that particular stand to make up for it.