Getting kids outdoors these days can be a challenge as our world increasingly moves toward a lifestyle of indoor-focused activities. Screens take up more and more time in children’s lives with each passing year. Fortunately for us parents, getting children to love nature is not a difficult task. Kids will love the natural environment even more if you show them that there are actually many tasty wild foods free for those willing to go outdoors and find them.
Foraging for foods has been a big part of my three children’s lives. As a foraging teacher, I have learned a good many lessons about what things you can do to get your kids really interested in getting out into the woods this fall to look for wild edibles.
Fall is the best time to forage as so many delicious foods can be found. Everything from fall fruits to mushrooms and even nuts can be picked both safely and sustainably.
Here are five invaluable tips I have learned over the years.
Get kids started with wild fruits.
Children are, for the most part, most enthusiastic about sweet things rather than savory or bitter flavors. The fact that fruits can be found all over Michigan in the autumn months makes your mission of getting them into the outdoors much more attainable. Autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata) is an invasive species that is all over the state with delicious healthy berries that boast lycopene content 17 times that of tomatoes. Our family eats Autumn olive jam all year. Another abundant fruit is the multitude of apples and crabapples (Malus species). It is not uncommon for us to harvest hundreds of pounds of apples every fall that are from wild or forgotten trees. Be sure to ask permission!
Get nutty about fall nut crops!
Nuts are a giant deal as they provide a generous amount of calories and can be stored for years. Kids will love almost anything made with hickory nuts, and if you are fortunate enough to find wild hazelnuts you can make your very own homemade Nutella-like product this winter. If you have multiple kids, turning it into a game to see who can collect the fastest is a sure way to make your kids interested in helping out. Cracked nuts can be baked into your favorite granola recipe or just get roasted and eaten with a little salt.
Turn mushroom hunting into an Easter egg hunt-style activity.
Mushrooms are mysterious and they do not always come up when you want them to or even where you want them to. That fact lets you turn the entire experience into a game. Although my kids are unenthusiastic about the prospect of eating mushrooms, they absolutely love to find them. There are a number of easy-to-identify and safe mushrooms to look for this fall such as Lions Mane (Hericium species), Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) and Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus species).
Dig delicious roots!
Root crops are an incredible resource for the foraging family as they can really make your meals more filling. Foods like sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus), wild parsnips (Pastinaca sativa), and Wapato (Sagittaria species) all have tasty below-ground portions. Check local ordinances before harvesting roots or tubers from public land.
Take your kids to a foraging class this fall.
There are a number of wild food instructors across the great state of Michigan and most of us are more than thrilled to spread the gospel of foraging to the youth of this state. Going out with an expert is a sure way to make sure you properly identify and safely harvest your bounty this fall.
Clay Bowers is a dad, an avid outdoorsman, foraging teacher and general plant enthusiast. He has been teaching foraging for 11 years and offers classes throughout Michigan and the Midwest. Follow him on Instagram @Clay__Bowers.
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