How Forests and Foraging May Enhance Our Children’s Nutrient Intake

Living near a forest promotes physical activity and healing connections with nature. Research shows it may benefit your child’s nutritional status too.

Researchers at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment determined that children who live within two miles of a forest have 25% greater diversity in their diets. Dietary diversity is important for reducing micronutrient deficiencies and increasing the likelihood that health-boosting phytonutrients and antioxidants are consumed.

The study concludes that this correlation may be directly due to consumption of foods found in wooded areas, as well as greater ability to purchase an increased variety of foods with income generated by natural resources from the forest. Availability of diverse plant life is likely a factor as well because of the abundance of pollinators surrounding a forest.

Related: Forest Bathing: Why your Family Needs to Start Doing It

Although this particular research took place in developing countries, I believe we can certainly glean beneficial information from it.

Foraging for wild foods will connect you back to the land while enhancing kid-friendly culinary possibilities. Many wild foods are nutritionally-dense and learning how to identify and prepare them can be an enriching educational opportunity for you and your children.

Lamb’s quarter and dandelion greens are excellent sources of magnesium. Mushrooms are disease-fighting and some may have neuroprotecive properties. Fiddleheads are full of vitamin C (and other antioxidants), vitamin A, iron, and potassium. Stinging nettles have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and are rich in minerals iron and calcium, as well as fatty acids.

Proper identification of any foraged edibles is extremely important. There are many look alike plant and mushroom species that may be harmful, even toxic, if consumed. While my family and I are happy to gather lambs quarter and the occasional dandelion greens, I don’t yet feel confident enough in our ability to safely identify mushrooms and certain plants. We purchase our favorite wild-forged fungi from the farmers market and “forage” for edibles we have added to our own yard (such as elderberries). I look forward to “growing” more wild food skills with my family.

Related: How Nature Journaling Benefits you and the Kids

Forests are an invaluable part of human survival and my hope is that research around their nutritional impact will flourish. As the father of permaculture, Bill Mollison, says “forest is the greatest resource on Earth; value it for its many gifts of medicine, clear water, breathable air, and materials for our future...”

Photo credit: Alinute Silzeviciute/Shutterstock

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