Deb Watson writes about how we support children’s growing awareness of food and food waste.

When I first wrote about food and sustainability, I shared a quote which I believe is still a powerful reminder of the influence each individual has over our food supply and production globally.

“You as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit”
- Joal Salatin

The United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals remind us that food related issues are of a high priority for humanity, and with a little reflection we can see that all 17 goals can relate to global food supply and consumption.

Food is a fundamental human right and a common link between all life forms on this planet. The choices we make with respect to growing, purchasing, cooking and consuming it impact upon our health and wellbeing, but also the lives of the other than human species who share this planet and our biosphere.

In the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that announced a “Code Red for Humanity” and noted that “climate impacts will undoubtedly worsen," we are alerted to a need to act immediately but to also expect greater disruption to many systems, including the global food systems.

The fact is that global food insecurity has been an increasingly disturbing topic for some years, and perhaps COVID-19 and the Ukraine/Russia war have helped to expose the issues with our systems.

George Monbiot notes in his 2022 book, Regenesis – How to feed the world without devouring the planet that “Around the world, farming has been wiping out vast habitats, depleting freshwater, polluting oceans, and accelerating global heating, while leaving millions undernourished and unfed. Increasingly, there are signs that the system itself is beginning to flicker.”

But, and I always love a "But", there are solutions.

Our planet is a complex ecosystem, striving for an equilibrium, however there are times when the planet can no longer absorb the shocks and bounce back - so we must help restore balance before the systems break down beyond restoration.

As David Suzuki has reinforced, everything is interconnected to the sacred elements of Earth, the water, air, and soil. These must be preserved and supported for life to thrive.

In our role as educators, we can support the growing awareness of this interconnectedness. Gardening and cooking with children is an opportunity to understand the role of soil, water and air in producing the food we cook and eat to sustain ourselves well.

Within our program and for ourselves we can:

  • Explore food diversity – as an important consideration for food security by:
    • Developing less reliance on 3-4 main grains – instead of just rice or wheat why not explore grains from other cultures, such as maize, millet, barley.
    • Swapping from protein that requires large tracts of land to grow grain to feed an animal that we then slaughter and explore other ways to eat protein - some exciting work is currently being offered to citizens in Singapore with a cultured meat protein grown from a cell rather than a farm (check out the link below to Goodmeat).
    • Exploring vegetable proteins, such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus and sweet potatoes. What alternative vegetable protein do other cultures use?
    • Adding pulses to the diet, such as edamame, lentils, pinto beans, chickpeas, mung beans and fava beans. You might try sprouting beans with the children.
    • Exploring fruits – we often add a fruit salad making exercise to the program; try exploring new fruits and discussing with children where they grow and what season they are best in.
  • Build food resilience and lessen the shocks such as the recent lettuce price hike by looking at our local community:
    • There were many alternatives to lettuce that can be grown in your backyard. How many edible green leafy plants can you and the children name?
    • And let’s not forget edible plants we often call weeds.
    • You may be able to start a crop swap or harvest table at the service for sharing excesses.
    • Or join a local community garden.
  • Reduce food waste: Paul Hawken from the Project Drawdown identified that eight of the top twenty solutions for reversing global warming relate to food. The two most easily adopted within early childhood are reducing food waste and prioritising plant rich diets.
    • Reducing food waste can be as simple as considering, reduce, reuse and recycle. How do we reduce what we throw away – from the kitchen where waste may arise, to the table where uneaten served food ends in the bin. How can we use planning to ensure we do not buy more than we need and that children eat what they serve? Can you help children with choice and control to minimise waste while also trying new foods? Do we have systems in place to assist preschool parents prepare waste free lunches, including having enough food of a variety to entice the child but not overwhelm them? The NSW Environment Protection Authority -Love Food hate waste has resources to share.
    • Consider exploring food waste recipes that use the parts of food you might not consider using – potato peelings into vegies crisps, quick home-baked crackers made with leftover herbs, pesto with parsley stalks or carrot leaves.
  • Support children’s growing awareness of food systems – growing food helps children experience the cycle from seed to meal and being able to grow food is a powerful skill we can give each child.
    • While growing a bed of carrots may not offer a significant contribution to the world's food security, it is the skill and understanding around growing food that is critical for future generations to grasp.
    • Although Australia does not have a food security problem, it is important as a global citizen to understand that the production and consumption of food no longer just sits at a local or even national level, we are globally connected – if countries find themselves without food, we will all feel the impact through increased unrest, war, displacements and refugees.
    • If you would like to explore more on the topic of food security, have a look at The Australian International Food Security Research Centre
  • Support children to make good food choices
    • The choices we make with respect to eating fresh food that has been grown locally, with minimal chemicals and packaging, that also supports farmers with a fair price, is our best sustainable option. Imported, packaged and or pre-prepared foods that may utilise hidden sugars, salts and fats come with negative consequences for both our wellbeing and the planet’s biosphere.
    • The additional waste and challenges posed by monocultural farming and the embedded energy and water resources used to transport and produce these prepared and/or packaged foods add to the carbon footprint and waste of resources used. Do you know how much energy it takes to prepare your dinner? Have a look at the resources at FoodWise partnered with the South Australia Government. Or you may find this short video worth sharing with families - 'Supervalue- a look at food miles and food waste'.
    • A discussion on good food choices should also consider the nutritional value of foods we choose to eat and the health issues we struggle with in Australia such as obesity and diabetes. How do we support children to make the best choice? Feed Australia suggests “It’s important to teach children to differentiate between being hungry and just feeling like food,” and they further suggest “The key is to serve healthy set meals and snacks (morning and afternoon tea). Children will soon learn they have to eat at those times and if they’re eating nutrient rich foods, their tummies will be happy and healthy."

As a refection for your team, you may also wish to ponder on the ethical dilemmas we engage with if we play with food. What resources do we waste?

Although not in a great depth, we have offered a few strategies for educators to engage with as we strive for a world that Cares for People and the Planet while ensuring a fair share for all. The answer, although not simple, is that we need to rethink production, consumption patterns and lifestyle to amend these in such a way that global greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to an absolute minimum and nurture the development of efficient food systems with less impact on soils and the planet.

I will again conclude by sharing this quote from an illustrious human being, someone many of us admire:

“Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy and habitable by all species.”
- Sir David Attenborough


Hard.LJ. 2018 Cooking with Scraps- turn your peels, cores, rinds, and stems into delicious meals. Workman Publishing. New York

Low.T 1991. Wild Food Plants of Australia. Angus and Robertson Australia

Lymbery.P & Oakeshott.I 2014 Farmageddon- the true cost of cheap meat. Bloomsbury London

Monbiot,G. 2022 Regenesis – How to feed the world without devouring the Planet. Penguin UK.

Pollan.M 2011. The Omnivores’s Dilemma-The search for a perfect meal in a fast-food world. Bloomsbury London

Stuart.A 2018 Low Tox Life- A handbook for a healthy you and a happy planet. Murdoch Books. Australia

Suzuki.D- 2006 The Sacred Balance- Greystone Books.Canada)


Bush Tucker Plant Food-Edible Weeds

Community gardens.

Crop swap

Edible weeds.

Feed Australia

Good Meat.

The Australian Food Security Research Centre

Salatin.J.2011 Official twitter: Healing the earth with good food.

Symons.M in The Australian National Geographic. 27 June 2014. Australia’s cuisine culture: a history of our food. https://www.australiangeograph...

United Nations- Press release- Code Red for Humanity.

United Nations- Sustainable Development Goals.