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Preparing, processing, promoting


Preparing and preserving garden foods
 -Preparing foods safely and cleanly
 -Preparing tasty meals using garden foods
 -Preserving vegetables and fruit
Promoting foods and dishes successfully

To be successful, a food-growing project should be thought through from beginning to end, “from plot to pot”. For example, when you plant spinach, have in mind the final product - the spinach pie, or spinach salad, or spinach with scrambled egg. Think how it will be prepared, tasted and eaten, how pupils will learn about these foods, and how parents and families will be involved. Only make your final decision on what to grow once you have a good idea what will happen to it in the end.

From plot to pot
“Our research about vegetable eating shows that you … ought to put kids in a garden, but also teach them about gardens and cook the food from the garden and have them taste it and see it's delicious. And then do it repeatedly. One cucumber is not enough.”
(Michael Murphy, professor of psychology, Harvard Medical School in Orenstein, 2004)


Familiar dishes The dishes you have in mind must be appealing, fairly familiar and easy to prepare. If they require other ingredients (e.g. flour, eggs, seasonings), make sure these will be available when you are ready to prepare the food. Some very nutritious dishes are based on these general combinations:

Think of some local examples.

Combinations Some foods should be combined with other foods in order for nutrients to be absorbed by the body. For example:

Vegetable foods containing vitamin A (e.g. green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potato)should be eaten withfoods which contain some oil or fat (e.g. butter, ghee, groundnuts, nuts, oilseeds, avocado pears, vegetable oil, red palm oil).
Vegetable foods containing iron (e.g. green leafy vegetables, legumes, pulses, nuts)should be eaten withfoods rich in vitamin C (e.g. citrus, mangoes, papaya, cabbage, guava, pineapple, tomato).

Some popular combinations are:

Think of dishes in your own community with these combinations.

Snacks Think of:

(See Snacks and drinks from the garden in the Horticultural Notes.)

What are popular and nutritious snacks in your area?

Mealtimes If children don't normally have a proper breakfast before school, try to provide one so that they will have energy for the school day. Or provide a snack mid-morning, when children's blood sugar is getting low. It's often easier to get children to eat new snacks than to eat new meals.

Can the garden help to provide children with snacks or breakfast?

On all these points, consult the school meals service, the local health authority, home economics teachers, the children, the parents and your own common sense.


There are four watchwords in food preparation: nutritious, delicious, safe and economical. Foods should be prepared so that they don't lose their food value. They should taste good and look good so that everyone wants to try them. They should be hygienically prepared so that they don't make us sick. And it should all cost as little as possible. Here are some roads to perfect preparation.

Good food value To get best value from our foods, some tips are:

See the lesson outline Preparing food at the end of this chapter.

Great taste Fresh, organically grown fruit and vegetables already have a good taste. Many can be eaten raw - for example, carrots, peppers, peas, salad, young spinach, tomatoes. A little oil and salt brings out the flavour and also the food value. But sometimes cooking can enhance the flavour and so can good food combinations. Set children the goal of finding new food combinations that they like. Remember that appearance enhances taste. Get children to think how to make dishes look good.

Food safety Generally, the rule is that food preparation must be supervised by people who have training in food handling and food hygiene. The education authority may have Environmental Health Officers responsible for advising on food hygiene and sanitation on school premises. If you want to have practical cooking lessons, get their advice, or consult Home Economics teachers and school cooks, and give children some training in food hygiene (see the lesson outline Food Hygiene at the end of this chapter). This will include teaching how to deal with leftover foods safely. Make sure there is access to clean water for washing foods, and soap for washing hands, dishes and work surfaces. Alternatively, you may want to give demonstrations and let children try out the dishes at home.

Economical cooking You can create an outdoor cooking area quite cheaply using a fuel-saving cooker. Pressure cookers are expensive to buy but cook very quickly, use very little fuel and can cook almost anything, even cakes and bread. Earth ovens or “cob ovens” are excellent for roasting and baking. They are a lot of work to make but cost very little in materials. Solar cookers are easy and cheap to make and can cook anything, but need constant attention. Hayboxes or “wonderbaskets” (featured in the lesson outline Cooking in the garden below) are good for long, slow cooking. They need no attention and are cheap and easy to make. All are highly educational, environmentally friendly and great fun for children.

How will you make your food preparation nutritious, delicious, safe and economical?


This will depend on your circumstances and aims. These are some of the things schools do:

If you are feeding a large number of children, get them to bring their own lunch containers or plates so as to conserve water and reduce labour and time for washing up.

How will you distribute the foods you grow?


Schools should think of doing just a little preserving and storing of garden crops. It is the traditional answer to seasonal lacks and to losing food stocks after the harvest to insect pests, rodents or decay. Children love dried fruits, which are rich in nutrients. Many dried products can also find a market. It catches the interest of families if children come home with samples of useful, tasty preserved foods - for example, a small bottle of tomatoes or fruit juice, a packet of mango slices or dried leaves for soups. Busy home cooks may be inspired to imitate the practice.

Moreover, preserving food is highly educational. It not only shows how to protect food against bacteria, mould, insects and rodents in a practical way, but also illustrates the scientific principles behind these processes.

Some methods of preserving fruit and vegetables are set out in the box below:

Preserving fruit and vegetables

Curing (e.g. onion, sweet potato, pumpkin, yam). Some vegetables will last longer if they are laid out in an airy shady place for a few days after harvesting. This thickens the skins and protects the soft vegetable inside.
Simple drying and storing(e.g. beans, peas, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, grains). Legumes and oilseeds are dried on the plant or on racks, then stored in a cool dry protected place.
Shade drying or solar drying Fruit (mango, banana, guava) and vegetables (okra, tomato, green leafy vegetables) is dried in strips or slices in the shade or in a solar drier (a frame with a sheet plastic cover). Some fruits are “blanched” first in steam or boiling water to improve shelf-life, flavour and appearance. Some fruits (e.g. mango, pumpkin) are cooked and pulped, then dried to make a “fruit leather”.
Making flour (e.g. pumpkin, banana, sweet potato, cowpea, breadfruit). The food is dried, then pounded and sieved.
Pickling(e.g. cucumber, cabbage). Many vegetables can be fermented, with salt or without, and then stored in salt water (brine), vinegar or oil.
Bottling (e.g. tomato pulp, fruit juice, whole fruit, jam). Food is cooked and bottled while hot, or bottled and then sterilized by boiling in the bottles. Sugar is generally added to fruit to conserve it.
Freezing (e.g. some fruits and vegetables, soups and stews).

If you are going to do some preserving, aim for a product that everyone will like and a simple process that will not fail! There are a few ideas for school projects in Conserving and preserving garden food in the Horticultural Notes. Find out what is traditionally done in your area. Some local techniques can be practised in school, or you may be able to improve local methods (e.g. using a solar drier instead of the sun). If the process is new to you, treat it as an experiment. When you are sure it works, send samples home and ask families to let you know what they think.

Photo: FAO. “Rural processing and preserving techniques for fruits and vegetables”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (no date)

What foods will you store or preserve?


1. What is people's idea of a good diet?

Often, the foods that children need for good health and growth are available but are not valued, and children don't eat them enough. Many nutritious local foods may not be given much importance in comparison with expensive foods, imported foods, or foods which “fill you up”. In particular, people may see fruit and vegetables as the poor man's “hard-time food”. In some places, fruits may fetch a good price in the market and are therefore sold to generate cash income rather than eaten at home.

You need to have an idea of what your community thinks is a good diet. Their ideas will affect your project because you want to affect the community's thinking. Are there any special beliefs about food in the community? What do they think are “good foods” and why? What do they think a child should eat every day? When do they think children should eat, and how often? If food supplied for school meals is just cereals and beans, what do they think would be the best things to add? These questions can be discussed in class, through homework, or at parent-teacher association meetings (see the Nutrition Factsheet A healthy diet for schoolchildren). The school should explore these questions in an open way, being careful not to antagonize people by telling them what they ought to think.

The discussion may reveal that everyone agrees on the best diet for children. On the other hand, you may find that children and their families need to be convinced about the value of some of the foods you would like to grow. Some foods may be held in low esteem. There may also be competition for children's interest by the street vendors who sell cakes, buns, potato chips and fried pies. Children are conservative in their tastes and like what they are used to. They may need to be encouraged to try new dishes and given frequent opportunities to taste new foods or food combinations. If this is the case, your project will need to promote foods as well as grow them.

Getting children to eat good food

In a rural area of Africa, farmers grow beans, cassava, pumpkin and sweet potatoes but throw away the leaves (which are rich in vitamins and minerals). The school grew these plants, too, and gave the leaves to the cook for school meals. This was not a success at first because the children spent their lunchtime picking out the “green bits” and throwing them away! The school found three answers. (1) It gave some lessons about greens. (2) It invited parents to a workshop on “Green Leaves”. (3) The cook mashed up the greens with beans (which the children loved).
* * *
In Latin America, some schools had a problem with children who rarely ate vegetables and did not think they were “real food”. The school cooks tried many experiments. Stir-fried vegetables did not go down well, but “vegetable fried rice” was popular, and greens were stirred into the traditional chicken soup, which children were used to. (Miller, 2003)
* * *
On a fertile tropical island, local fruit is provided with every school meal. But many children will only eat imported fruits, mainly out of snobbery. In one school the teacher found the afternoon class rolling their oranges down the desks to the only boy who would eat them. The teacher brought in the local karate club to give a demonstration and talk about the club's diet. They gave local fruit a better name - and also started a fashion for drinking water instead of soft drinks.

2. How can we persuade children/families to value these foods and make them a habit?

There are some ideas for promoting foods in the TIPS box.

Which ones would suit your school, your community, and the foods you have in mind?


Outputs: List of familiar dishes and snacks which can be prepared with garden food
List of ideas for how food will be prepared/distributed/promoted.

Make the product attractive
  • Make the food tasty.
  • Have special sessions on the flavour, texture, colour and smell of the foods.
  • Package the food attractively - e.g. wrap a roasted sweet potato in a washed green leaf, put a fruit drink in a bamboo mug, make plates of woven straw or stitched leaves.
  • Create dramatic snacks such as popcorn, pumpkin seed sprouts and carrot “flowers”.
  • Decorate the food and the table with garden leaves and flowers.
  • Make a special ritual of snack time with garden foods.
  • Call on role models (local sports heroes, popular teachers, well-known local people) to talk about how much they like the food and how they eat it.
  • “Hide” the food if necessary in soups, stews or fritters.
Create good publicity
  • Find a slogan, e.g. “Give us green vegetables every day”.
  • Make a poster of the target dish to keep it in everyone's mind.
  • Make a little book about the food, with pictures, information and recipes.
  • Label the growing plants with a picture and a little nutrition information.
  • Make “garden food” a feature in school meals. Pin up the week's menu with garden items highlighted, and praise the classes who produced them. Invent new names for garden dishes.
  • Invite parents and helpers to special school lunches featuring garden produce.
Involve children and families
  • Give children the final choice of what to plant.
  • Get children to make a “mirror garden” at home, duplicating the school garden - same plants, same process, same timing, same products.
  • Involve students in planning school menus to include garden produce.
  • Explain the garden programme to parents/guardians, and ask for advice. Ask them to report the discussion to absent parents.
  • Involve parents in cultivating the food, preparing it, serving it, distributing and promoting it.


Preparing food In these lessons children learn about keeping and preserving food, food hygiene, and how to cook to conserve food value.

1. Keeping food Pupils experiment with the principles of food decay and food conservation

Objectives Pupils share knowledge of how to keep foods fresh, recognize the causes of food decay and observe the process of decay.

Activities The pupils wash their hands. The teacher washes some freshly gathered fruit/vegetables in front of the pupils, cuts each in two, puts half aside and divides up the other half, giving everyone a piece to eat. This is the best way to eat foods: freshly gathered, clean and eaten the same day. But what if we want to eat it the next day? Pupils suggest ways of keeping food fresh (e.g. cool, out of the sun, in closed containers, dry and in the dark). They contribute stories of what happens if fresh food is left (dries up, goes bad/ mouldy, rots away, smells). The leftover pieces of food are used in a “Rot Race”: pupils put each piece on a paper with a prediction of what will happen. They monitor the foods for a week, then observe and describe them in detail.

2. Food hygiene This lesson is best done in a kitchen, using real utensils.

Objectives Pupils recognize the danger of “invisible dirt” (bacteria) and how to avoid it, and start to practise hygiene routines in preparing food.

Activities Pupils look at a glass of muddy water and one of clear water and discuss which is clean and safe to drink. The aim is to bring out that even clear water can contain “invisible dirt” (bacteria) which can make us sick. Pupils look around a kitchen (or a picture of one) to spot places where bacteria might be lurking (wherever there is damp, warmth and food). To beat bacteria, the slogan is “clean, cold, covered”. The teacher demonstrates a hygiene routine for preparing and cooking a food (e.g. grated carrot), pausing frequently for pupils to suggest (and explain) the next move.

  1. Check that there is clean water and cleaning equipment (soap, scrubber, jug).
  2. Check that there are no insects around.
  3. Wash hands and nails with soap and running water.
  4. Set up equipment and check equipment and surfaces are clean.
  5. Wash foods in clean water. Prepare foods (rubbish on the compost). Cook if necessary.
  6. Cover cooked food and put in a cool place. When re-using, heat to boiling point.
  7. After eating, clear up and wash up.

Groups practise preparing other foods in the same way. To follow up they demonstrate the same seven steps at home.

3. Preparing food This lesson is about getting full food value. It should be done in a kitchen ifpossible.

Objectives Pupils describe local methods of preparing and cooking food, appreciate the value ofraw foods, understand how to cook to conserve food value, and try out healthy cooking methods.

Activities Pupils wash their hands, then sample some raw and some cooked foods and describe the difference in taste. They name raw foods they like and say how they are prepared (grated, juiced, etc.). The teacher shows approval of raw foods and explains that they are usually very good for us. Cooked vegetables too should be crunchy, not overcooked. Pupils say what they can cook and describe how they prepare particular vegetables. For older pupils, the teacher demonstrates a number of cooking methods (boiling, steaming, grilling, stir-frying and a one-pot local spinach dish); pupils discuss which method does most to keep the food in the vegetables (boiling is poor because many nutrients are thrown away with the water). To follow up, pupils experiment by comparing the water from steamed carrots and boiled carrots, spinach or squash (the colour shows how much of the nutrients are lost in boiling). They try out steaming, grilling or stir-frying at home and report Boiled back. (Carrot-water experiment from Kiefer and Kemple, 1998)

4. Cooking in the gardenThis lesson is a social event which gives sharp focus to garden products.

Objectives Pupils know the main local cooking fuels (older students compare costs), and can use one fuel-saving outdoor cooking method (older students can explain how it works).

(N.B. The haybox used in this lesson is a cooking pot with a lid which fits closely inside a large box or bag thickly lined with insulating material, e.g. hay, straw, banana leaves, polystyrene chips. The pot is heated to boiling, then put into the box/bag and left to cook in its own heat for several hours.)

Activities Students describe and sketch their home cookers and say what fuel they use; older students decide which are most expensive. The teacher demonstrates cooking with an open fire; pupils feel the heat and recognize that this means wasted fuel. The pupil then prepares a dish in the haybox and closes it up; again, the hands-on test shows pupils that this method traps the heat and uses it for cooking. Older students discuss how the heat is kept in (by insulation). The class fixes a time (several hours later) for a ceremonial opening of the haybox. To follow up, pupils give a haybox demonstration at the school for parents and visitors.

5. Conserving and preserving Making preserves is interesting, educational and good publicity.

Objectives Pupils understand some principles of food conservation, describe local food conservation practices, help with preserving foods and (older students) explain the processes.

Activities Pupils recall recent meals, tell which ingredients were fresh and which were preserved, then talk about examples of preserved/processed foods and preserving methods from their own experience. They look at samples of preserved/processed foods (see Part D above) and identify the process in each case. Older students discuss how these processes stop decay (e.g. by removing water, removing air, adding preservatives, heating to kill bacteria, hardening the skin, lowering the temperature). The best follow-up is a small-scale preserving project using garden food (for suggestions see Conserving and preserving garden food in Horticultural Notes).



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