Gian Luca Demarco explains why seasonal nutrition matters for children: Improperly grown vegetables at the wrong time are insignificantErudito
At any time of the year, stores offer a variety of fruits and vegetables. According to the renowned Italian chef Gian Luca Demarco, this illusion created by shopping centers that vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables are constantly available has distanced us from the health benefits of highly important seasonal nutrition. “Eating fruits and vegetables from the current season provides the most nutrients and vitamins, making the diet more balanced and diverse. The essence of seasonal nutrition is to consume what grows and yields during a specific season. Learning these basic principles changes our perception of food,” says Gian Luca Demarco. For years, this prominent chef has been teaching children at the Vilnius Erudito licėjus – not only sharing knowledge but also taking care of their nutrition. Starting from September, the principles of healthy and seasonal eating will also be tested by the students of the Kaunas Erudito licėjus.
Seasonal Nutrition – How to Know What to Eat When?
Fruits and vegetables have their cyclic seasons, so Gian Luca Demarco emphasizes that beneficial nutrients and vitamins are present in fruits and vegetables only during their respective seasons. When grown during other times of the year, these products lack their value – we get fiber but not essential nutrients. How to know when to eat what?
The Italian chef suggests using seasonal nutrition maps. “These maps show what grows each month and when it’s healthiest to eat certain foods. They are easy to find online. By using seasonal nutrition maps, you will notice that, for example, oranges don’t need to be consumed in July, as they are healthiest and most nutritious in January and February,” explains Gian Luca Demarco. Lithuania’s climate is not conducive to cultivating fresh vegetables and fruits year-round. One solution is to consume produce grown abroad. In their respective seasons, these products are sufficiently nutritious, and due to advanced transportation methods, they reach us quickly. The chef also notes that we have adapted reasonably well to the challenges of our climate zone – we have a well-established culture of fermentation, marination, and preservation. “Fermentation and preservation are indeed very beneficial because they help preserve valuable nutrients, vitamins, and probiotics. The only issue is that most canned and pickled vegetables are not suitable for children – they often have a sharp and sour vinegar flavor that kids dislike and won’t eat.” According to him, cruciferous vegetables are particularly valuable and can be preserved for the cold season. “Beans, lentils, and similar vegetables during the winter season help fill the nutritional gaps in our bodies caused by the unfavorable climate for year-round vegetable cultivation. Seasonal nutrition teaches us to look not at what we lack but at what we have and how to use it effectively,” emphasizes the chef.
Advice for Parents – Let’s Avoid Forcing Unappetizing Food on Children
Gian Luca Demarco is convinced that children’s opinions should be respected. “Pressuring children and forcing them to eat unappetizing food, as was common in the past, is not advisable. This creates negative associations that everything healthy is unpalatable. I always try to change the form and appearance of the food so that children find it appealing and are curious to try it. My own children, for a long time, didn’t like zucchini, but when we prepared them as little boats filled with meat, they eagerly ate them,” shares the chef from his personal experience. He advises that to familiarize children with vegetables, it’s not necessary to start with stews, as such dishes don’t look visually appealing and don’t stimulate appetite. Gian Luca Demarco jokingly shares a kitchen trick: “If a child isn’t allergic to dairy products and likes cheese – take advantage of that. If you put cheese on any vegetables, the likelihood that the child will eat them increases by 40 percent. They might not even realize they ate vegetables.” Nevertheless, according to Gian Luca Demarco, the knowledge is more important than small kitchen tricks. “I, myself, didn’t like carrots during my childhood. To start eating them, I had to understand why they were beneficial for my body. That’s why, when working with the children of the Erudito licėjus, I want to sow the seeds of information and knowledge – to teach them about food culture, nutrition, how to take care of themselves, live longer, and healthier,” he says. The chef is convinced that these seeds will eventually grow and yield results.
Not Just Healthy Eating, but also Knowledge
Gian Luca Demarco took on the challenge of taking care of children’s nutrition at the Erudito licėjus because he wants to teach healthy eating habits from a young age. “With the students of the Erudito licėjus, we have been trying to introduce them to balanced seasonal nutrition for a year, and this is just the beginning. Our plans include regular lessons about nutrition, during which they will learn about the most important principles, hear about seasonal nutrition, and learn when certain fruits and vegetables grow and when they are healthiest to eat,” says the Italian chef. He understands that parents often lack the time in their daily lives to delve into healthy balanced nutrition or experiment with dishes, trying out new vegetables and fruits, and introducing children to dietary diversity. It’s beneficial when such opportunities are provided at school. The Italian chef doesn’t hide the fact that working with children is a challenge, but it offers valuable experience for both sides. “The younger generation is very intelligent, so it’s important to talk to children, ask them, discuss with them, explain what and why we do. They haven’t formed rigid attitudes yet; they are open to life, experiments, food variety. Therefore, it’s time for us to learn and grow together, develop our taste and cultivate a proper understanding of nutrition. Information significantly contributes to developing taste – it nurtures the understanding of why we should eat a certain product, what benefits it brings to our bodies,” emphasizes Gian Luca Demarco. According to him, the acquired knowledge will be put to use; it’s just important to provide children with information and freedom.