Food Through the Generations

By Valerie
July 8, 2009

Forgive me Mother Nature, for I have sinned in the past 36 years. I am accused of the following sins:

1. I’m a city girl. Born and bred in “The Big Smoke” or as my Dad would say, “The Centre of the Universe”, I spent my first 25 years with bright lights, a lot of smog, a sprawling population and not a farm in sight.

2. I was born in the 70s – the era of processed, pre-made foods and preservatives. A favourite in our house was Cheez-Whiz.

3. You will, on occasion, find me in the grocery store buying grapes from Chile and cantaloupe from Mexico.
Mother Nature, I am sorry for my sins and ask you to forgive these sins as well as any Washington Apples I bought and forgot to confess (even if they were organic and from the West Coast).

When Robin asked me to incorporate the Eating Locally Challenge as a sub-theme to their monthly contributions, I replied very quickly and with great confidence, “No problem Robin, I’m all over it”.

It wasn’t until the next day when I was sharing my ideas with friends that one piped in, “Ummm, Wendy – you grew up in Toronto with a Mother who made the bulk of her meals out of a can with processed, pre-made goods (sorry Mom!!) You helped your grandmother make salads using Jell-O moulds and made Trifle with Jell-O, powdered custard and DreamWhip. What exactly are you going to write about?”

(By the way, that friend is SO NOT my friend any more:))

Although my grandparents didn’t necessarily educate me on eating locally or the importance of supporting local farms, many of my memories of baking and enjoying Sunday night suppers with my grandparents bring back feelings of being part of family, happiness and joy.

It was a treat going out grocery shopping with my Nana because she made it feel special and fun (and educational unbeknownst to me). I loved helping set the table, measuring, stirring in the kitchen with Nana. My joy of cooking was very much influenced by my grandmothers (as well as my Dad).

For all the reasons above, my motivation is very high to educate myself and my daughter about the importance of supporting the economy and livelihood of our farms on Vancouver Island and the benefits of eating fresh, locally produced and made food.

And my daughter’s grand-community can play a significant role.

A recent study from Alberta suggests the new norm for an increasing number of Canadian families is “Dashboad Dining”. That is – fewer sit down meals and, less time with our families and on meals altogether and eating while watching television, working on the computer, and in our vehicles.

Ask your Grandparents where they spent most of their time when they were young. I’d be surprised if they didn’t make a comment along the lines of the dining room or kitchen tables as being the central piece of family furniture.

Eating together as a multi-generational family is where kids learn “please” and “thank-you,” how to carry a conversation, to chew with their mouths closed and eat their vegetables. To read the entire thought-provoking and interesting article, go HERE

Interestingly, a 2002 Grandparent Study by AARP revealed that the most popular activities among grandparents and grandchildren include: having dinner together (86%), eating out (84%), watching TV (76%), going shopping (75%), and reading together (75%). This shows that grandparents or our grand-community still bring their values and beliefs around meal time to the table.

Fun in the Kitchen

Depending on the age of the child, cooking for grandchildren can be as simple as cutting sandwiches with plastic knives to planning and producing a gourmet meal. Younger grandchildren are often happy to measure ingredients, stir, and taste test the finished products while older kids and teens often relish participating in deciding on the menu, shopping for ingredients, food preparation, presentation, and sometimes clean-up.

Being in the kitchen is a perfect opportunity to talk about your experiences with eating locally, be it from your own garden or farm, present or in the past.

Mostly, cooking is fun for grandchildren. Remember it’s the process and experience, rather than a perfect meal. Grand buddies: be prepared for a few mistakes and a whole lot of mess!

Why not ask your child’s grand-community to take part in the 2009 Comox Valley Food Challenge?

Cooking with Auntie Daphne: From Local Farm to the Beach

Meet Auntie Daphne. Her husband, Uncle Jeremy and I worked on the Comox Valley Quality of Life Project in 2004. It wasn’t until I was pregnant that the Triggs and the Ram-Johnstones developed a lovely and meaningful connection.

The Triggs have become another set of grandparents for Carly and we treasure their warmth, caring and loving relationship they’ve created with our daughter, and with us. Never afraid of challenges, Daphne and Jeremy play a big role in supporting Carly to develop healthy food choices and making it one big fun adventure. It’s not uncommon for Daphne to initiate baking cookies or having Carly help in her kitchen.

It’s a myth that most grandparents want to spoil our children by giving them candy, buying them ice cream and other treats. In fact, most grandparents understand the “food struggle” and want their grandchildren to acquire good eating habits.

It’s our job as parents to create an environment and opportunity of healthy habits while being crystal clear about expectations around food specific to the grandparent and grandchild relationship. As parents, we need to review those specifics with our parents and talk about issues such as our home’s “picky-eater policy”. My rule of thumb with our grand-community is to ask them to join us in our moderation motto – 80% smart and healthy food choices, 20% anything goes.

According to author and nutritionist Elizabeth Ward, “The best thing grandparents can do is talk to their grandchildren’s parents about how to feed their kids, and listen closely to their preferences and the recommendations of their paediatrician”

Saturday morning: Our cooking adventure starts at ASHberry Farms near Cumberland. Carly picks her usual three berries and loses interest, immediately. She toddles off to see the pigs and to be with her friends at the playground while I continue to pick the sweet and juicy berries.

Although Daphne and Jeremy didn’t accompany us on this trip, it’s something grandparents can easily incorporate as an activity. Not interested in picking berries? Call ahead and reserve some local pre-picked berries and enjoy the pigs, tractor and trampoline! Louisa and Don are incredibly supportive of families coming to their farm and always have time to educate their customers on their farming practices and what it’s like to operate and run a farm in the Comox Valley.

Check out the July Events at Our Big Earth for a calendar of great activities for multi-generational enjoyment including many tours of local farms here in the Valley. Or check out the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays where you can pick up your fresh, local farm products.

The beauty being everything at the Market is produced in the Regional District of Comox Strathcona and sold to you by the person who grew or made it.

Monday morning: Daphne arrives to a rather excited and spirited child. Carly wiggles her bum and says, “We’re making pie today!” followed by 10 jumps and a squeal, “We’re going to the beach for a picnic”, followed by two laps around the house with, “You’re coming too Auntie Daphne!”

Carly leaps into her apron and reminds me to “get the big chair Mommy”. You’d think she wouldn’t have the ability to stand still and stir. Ah, but she loves to cook, measure, pour, stir and with her Auntie Daphne nearby, the two embark on making a rather delicious and healthy “Strawberry Devonshire Pie. We chose a very simple, limited-bake recipe with fresh strawberries as the main ingredient.

We pack up our picnic basket including potato salad, cheese from Natural Pastures, local raw veggies from Sieffert’s, turkey breast from Gunther Bros and of course, the PIE. Off to the car we go and head down to Kye Bay.

I drop the gang off and watch my child take her shoes off and run in the sand. I drive away back to my office with a smile on my face knowing that Daphne and Jeremy truly relish the pure unmitigated joy of spending time with Carly who delights in their company and fills her belly with good-to-eat, healthy, locally produced food.

I sit down at our dining room table and have my own mini-picnic before going back to work. It’s the most satisfying meal I’ve made and enjoyed today.


Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

Helpful Videos

Caregiver Consultations: How We Help Frail Elderly Parents

Long Distance Caregiving

“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC