Written by Courtney Dunkin, Contributing Writer

Are you working to ditch processed foods and put more real food on the table? This month we’re running a series called Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better. Our goal is to answer the questions you might have and make the transition a whole lot easier!

After several generations of playing around with the latest and greatest advancements in food technology, today’s homemaker is longing to return to real food.

Unfortunately, the modern advancements that removed us from our food left us with little knowledge on how to select and prepare it now that we want it back. Many of us are now realizing how much work it takes to simply reclaim the culinary skills and traditions that were common knowledge for thousands of years. We face many challenges as we sift through the information and return to old ways.

Mothers, take comfort in knowing this burden will be lessened for the next generation if we are intentional about passing onto our children the lost culinary arts we are learning ourselves. It can be easy to focus on the here and now of nourishing our families, but if we refocus our perspective, we can also pass on reclaimed knowledge and skills at the same time.

There are so many ways to equip the next generation. We want real food to come naturally for our children. Here are just a few aspects of making real food second nature for them.

Examine the Food Culture In Your Home

Denaturing the food supply not only stripped it of nutritional value but left it devoid of its purpose in family relationships as well. Take the convenience of a single portion microwavable dinner, for instance. No longer must we labor in love over a meal suitable for the dinner table when everyone can serve themselves at their own convenience.

Do you gather around the table as a family and engage in discussion over a meal? Or do members of your family eat at different times, maybe even sitting in front of a television instead of the table? These are just two extreme examples of different “food culture in the home.”

And at these two extremes are two very different philosophies about food. Children raised in a home with meals on the fly or in solitude will likely struggle with the temptation of processed convenience “foods” when raising a family of their own someday.

Children who are raised on whole, nourishing food, prepared and served in love over pleasant conversation and relationship will probably someday nurture their own families in the same manner.

The way in which we prepare and serve our meals is just one aspect of what I’m referring to here as “food culture in the home.”

Start Early

Some begin their real food journey in the midst of an already growing family. Great. Start where you are. Start today. And don’t dwell on guilt over mistakes you made when your children were younger.

Ideally, though, it’s best to make real food a part of our homes before we ever bear children. During the breastfeeding years, our babies are exposed to a spectrum of tastes as the flavor of our milk changes with our diet. This lays the foundation for a healthy palate. The transition to solid food should be an easy one when real food is introduced from the start.

If the taste buds are trained to recognize corn and soy jazzed up in high fructose corn syrup and MSG, the child will develop a preference for that. But if real food is served from the start, the child becomes accustomed to the wide array of flavor combinations that are possible when we are not limited to the dull culinary restrictions of processed food.

Bring Them Into the Kitchen

From a young age, children want to be involved in preparing meals. Even the simple and mundane kitchen tasks fascinate them. In the beginning, little hands will be extra work for Mom, but like anything else, with a little training, this hindrance will turn into help in no time.

These years are precious. Our children are not in our way. They are our most important work.

Capturing their attention while it’s at its peak is the best way to draw little ones into the kitchen and let them practice their culinary skills from a young age. At age two, they can handle simple tasks like grating cheese and stirring sauces. By age eight, they can prepare a full meal.

It’s so important they learn the necessary culinary skills and not just how to follow a recipe. Once they understand the basics of cooking and begin to master skills, they can break free from a dependence on cookbooks, many of which contain psuedo-homemade recipes with processed convenience ingredients.

Have you ever come across a recipe that calls for a can of something, for instance? That’s not really homemade to me. My older children know how to make a creamy soup base or to boil down milk to make evaporated milk. It’s easy as long as you’re not slave to the cookbook.

Talk About Where Food Comes From

One of the biggest problems with today’s food supply is the fact that so many people simply don’t know where their food comes from. We’re so far removed from the source that we have a hard time even recognizing real food. Some foods undergo so many changes from farm to plate that children are clueless about how it came to them.

Supermarket milk is a good example of a highly processed food. The average store-bought milk is a sterilized and homogenized mixture collected from possibly hundreds or even thousands of cows. The product is dead from a nutritional standpoint, but irritating and allergy-causing from a health standpoint.

If our children are used to getting milk fresh from the farm, on the other hand, they will grow up to have confidence in sourcing their food locally.

We know the names of the cows that give us our milk. My older daughter claims to have a preference for a certain cow’s milk, in fact. Whether this milk really is creamier and tastier or if it is just in her head, I’m not sure. But it is a good example of knowing your source.

Tending to a garden is also an excellent way to raise children to know where their food comes from. They learn so much about the natural processes our Creator put in place for us to raise a seed from soil to table year after year. It’s so much easier to grow up gardening with Mom than it is to learn everything from scratch as an adult.

Teach Them How Food Affects Health

Talking with our children about what our bodies need and what harms them is a good way to encourage good food habits and discourage bad ones. Thanks to an excellent science curriculum that explains the human body in ways I would never think of, even my four and six year olds have a basic understanding of how their bodies were designed to function and what they need for optimal performance.

They can visualize the cell as a city with each part having a special job. They can imagine white blood cells acting as warriors that fight pathogens. So when I explain that sugar is food for the bad cells that enter our bodies and that it creates more of the bad guys for the white blood cells to fight, they understand how sugar impacts immunity. From this, they are motivated to limit sugar and eat more wholesome foods. (To some degree….my children still wouldn’t turn down a candy bar!)

Older children can develop an excellent understanding of preventing and combating disease with food. If you’re on a real food  journey, you’re probably immersed in information on health. Talk about it with your older children. It’s easy to teach them about food and health in everyday conversation.

Somewhere along the way, we have to make the transition from being the sole providers of our children’s nourishment and health to giving them responsibility for their own food choices. If they have the knowledge and skills to choose well and they understand how food affects them, both good and bad, they will be better equipped to make wise decisions for life.

Other posts in the series:

Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better

First Steps to Real Food

What Is Real Food?

Cutting Your Kitchen Prep Time in Half — Or More!

Confessions of a Formerly Picky Eater

How to Read Food Labels

The Grain Controversy: Should We Eat Them or Not?

Second Steps Towards Eating Real Foods: Switching Your Food Sources

Sweeteners: How They Affect You, Which Ones are Best, and How to Use Them

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Pantry Staples

5 Strategies to Help Your Husband and Kids Transition to Real Food 

7 Foods to Avoid

Finding Real Food in the Grocery Store

20 Easy Real Food Switches and Substitutions {with Free Printable Chart}

First Steps to Eating for Fertility

Keeping Costs Down in a Real Food Kitchen

5 Ways to Get More Fruits & Veggies into your Diet

Food Is Not Cheap: 4 Steps to Budgeting in Real Food

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Baked Goods

Simple Roast Chicken (And Fabulous Side Dish Recipes!)

17 Homemade Spice Mixes {with Recipes & Why You Should Use Them!}

5 Ways Green Living and Real Food are Connected

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Soups, Sauces, and Simple Dinners

How are you teaching your children about real food?