In the first two weeks of August my partner and I took our three-year-old twin girls to stay at the Kalikalos Holistic Education Centre on the Pelion Peninsular in Greece. We were there for their annual family fortnight, which I have written about in more detail elsewhere.
The food at the centre was vegetarian, unrefined and as unprocessed as possible, and we all took turns on the cooking rota, so each evening meal was created by a team of three participants with whatever fresh ingredients were available that day. This resulted in a variety of meals: some amazing and some slightly less amazing… This was generally fine for the grown-ups, but the children – most of whom were used to a typical meat-based diet back home – struggled to adapt to this new style of eating. One-pot-wonders containing a selection of roughly chopped vegetables in some form of spicy sauce went down particularly badly. Ironically, while the adults were eating really well – the food was generally healthy and plentiful – many of the children were actually eating worse food than they did at home because they were only eating the plain bread, rice and pasta, while supplementing this with crisps, cornflakes, chocolate spread, ice-cream, and souvlaki and chips from the neighbouring village. After various discussions it was possible to ensure that some of the food was prepared in a more “child-friendly” way (for example by keeping the fruit separate at breakfast rather than putting it all in a fruit salad), but it also became clear that many of the parents were more generally concerned about their children’s eating habits. With this in mind I volunteered to run a morning session on the subject of food and healthy eating – focusing on encountering new foods in a fun, sociable way through the five senses.
I designed the workshop so that we spent time looking at, touching, smelling, even listening to, and finally tasting (!) various foods. This kept the session fun, action-based and experiential, with lots of interaction and spontaneous discussion: well suited to the informal setting (an open roundhouse overlooking the Aegean Sea) and participants (who were, after all, also on their holidays).
As an ice-breaker we played desert-island dinners, with everyone saying what dinner they would choose if they were stranded on a desert island, and had to eat the same thing every day for the rest of their lives.
Then we played some guessing games, beginning with blindfolded volunteers being given various food items (fresh ginger, a whole nutmeg, a cinnamon stick, a tomato, a pepper, garlic and an onion) to identify in front of the group (who were very happy to provide clues…). I had made a couple of shakers containing dried rice and beans, and filled several colour-coded cups with various aromatic foodstuffs (lemon, mint, cinnamon, cloves, ginger). These were covered with tin-foil punched with tiny holes to allow the scents to escape, and passed around the group for people to guess the contents.
When it was time for a leg-stretch, everyone formed into two teams and went out into the centre’s permaculture garden to search for some of the amazing edible produce that was growing there. Both teams found all eighteen items on the list* before returning to the patio area where meals were served to make rainbow juices and smoothies. Some of the children chose colours of the rainbow and were challenged to design a recipe from the available items. We ended up with pink milk (watermelon and soya milk), carrot and orange juice, a banana smoothie, cucumber and mint juice and a plum smoothie. Squeezing the juice through a muslin square provided great, hands-on, messy-play fun!
*These were: oregano, mint, basil, aubergines, cucumbers, sunflowers, pears, grapes, kiwi fruits, mulberries, roses, spinach, lavender, peppers, tomatoes, blackberries, figs and courgettes…