The garden-to-table program is one way Clayton Early Learning (CEL), in Denver, encourages its students to have deep connections with healthy foods. It’s also one of the school’s strategies to address food insecurity, which affects many of the school’s families, especially this past year. When at full capacity, the Clayton kitchen prepares 1,000 fresh meals a day, from scratch, including its own organic baby food.
The students, age five and under, decide what they’d like to grow in the space, and then get to do the dirty work, offering little handfuls of dirt and pinches of seeds to the ready soil. When fruits and vegetables sprout up, they eat them.
“You haven’t lived until you’ve sat down with a three-year-old eating arugula salad,” Susan Hagar, CEL senior advisor of marketing and communications, says.
Mealtimes can be tricky at any age. Thinking about what to make and ensuring that it is nutritious, delicious, and accommodating everyone’s taste buds can seem overwhelming especially with small children. Kristen Wilford Adams, director of health and wellness at CEL, offers these tips for even the pickiest eaters and the busiest families:
- Start by including your children in the cooking process no matter how little. Children are more likely to taste, eat, and enjoy foods that they have helped to prepare.
- Keep things simple. There’s no need to take on a complex recipe with lots of ingredients. When meals are kept to minimal ingredients it allows everyone to establish a pallet for the abundance of flavors plant-rich foods can offer.
- Keep things fun! No need to have any strict rules when it comes to meals. Eat breakfast for dinner; throw some chocolate chips, cinnamon, and coconut flakes on your oatmeal; try a new seasoning blend to add more zest to your Taco Tuesday.
- Modeling is Key. Children take in everything, especially food habits and preferences. Be as adventurous with food as you hope your little ones will be.
Try this Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats recipe from CEL’s book, Clayton Cooks (exclusive to member families).
You Will Need:
- ½ cup rolled or steel cut oats
- ¼ cup canned pumpkin puree
- 1 cup nondairy milk or cow’s milk
- 1 to 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon chopped nuts, shredded coconut, and/or chocolate chips (optional)
- Add the oats to a mason jar or other lidded container.
- Add the pumpkin puree, milk, maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla extract to the jar.
- Stir the ingredients until completely mixed. Optional: Top the mixture with chopped nuts, shredded coconut, or chocolate chips.
- Seal the container and put it in the refrigerator for six to eight hours, or overnight.
- Serve the oats cold, or warm for the full fall pumpkin experience.