Starting a Food and Nutrition Education Program at home for kids and making it a natural part of family life can be lots of fun.
Food and nutrition education is also important, I feel, to change the way our children approach and think about food. Too much “food” on the shelves these days contains stuff we shouldn’t be consuming on a regular basis. The problem is that the convenience of processed foods, packaging, additives and flavouring all combine to tempt us to view them as acceptable. And kids follow suit.
My basic philosophy in food and nutrition education is that by setting good examples and engaging kids’ curiousity, taste buds and energy, we provide meaningful and memorable experiences that will build a foundation of positive, lifelong eating habits. We want them to choose fresh food, cooked from scratch!
We build a relationship through learning
I love that 2 year old Piglet often wanders often into the kitchen when I’m preparing food. He’s looking for me and is curious about what I’m doing. I love that we can make the best use of this window of opportunity and engage together.
“Food and nutrition education” may sound complicated, but it is really simple. All it needs is parental commitment to healthy, home cooked meals, a willingness to converse emphatically with a child, and the patience to allow him freedom to explore, mess and all.
This morning, Piglet’s food lesson was something as simple as preparing apples for our morning snack. I didn’t plan it, it just happened when he popped into the kitchen as usual. I was peeling apples and he asked me why I discarded “that thing”.
“What thing?” I asked.
He pointed into the sink at the apple stem. I told him it was because it wasn’t tasty to eat; it’d be difficult to swallow, too. He wanted to try, so I let him. He spat it out and said “Sharp!” And then I showed him the inner part of an apple I’d halved. He rubbed his finger on the core to feel how rough it was and watched the seeds drop out.
“From Papa’s garden?” he asked. And I said, “No, because apples don’t grow in tropical countries.”
I love our little talks, and I wish we could grow apples!
We begin at the start
Starting a little vegetable patch has been a great step in our food and nutrition education journey. Our kids are enthusiastically getting their hands dirty and learning how to grow and harvest fresh food. It’s good and healthy for everyone not to get all creepy with good, natural things like soil, “dirt” and worms!
A veggie patch shows kids where vegetables come from, teaches them how rewarding and healthy it is to grow a crop without using pesticides, and encourage positive recycling habits like using egg shells to benefit the garden.
Everyone can participate! Even a toddler can carry the container of veggie-fruit peels from the kitchen and throw them onto the compost heap.
We shop together
Grocery shopping together is an incredible opportunity to learn where things are sold, which foods should be preferred over others, and if you have more than 1 kid, assign responsibilities like who to push the trolley, who to bring fresh produce to the weighing counter, and who to put items into the cart. I have 3 kids and their support can be valuable while I shop mostly hands free.
That said, watch out when you’re shopping alone with 3 kids and someone needs an emergency potty mid way!
We prepare food, smell and cook
The possibilities are endless.
Breathe in the smell of garlic and red peppers. Get the dusty feel of unwashed potatoes on hands.
A 4 year old can chop and slice vegetables for a salad.
A toddler can peel and give garlic a rough chop using a butter knife.
Anyone can treat raw chicken to a good marinade massage and have fun tucking garlic bits under the skin.
These are all great fine motor activities. I love that they happen naturally in a home learning environment.
We learn new things
Nature: Watch how neglecting weeds has disastrous results!
Vocabulary: Learn words like “stem”, “core”, “skin”, “roots”, “shoots”. Cooking words like “bake”, “fry”, “steam”, “boil”, “grill”, “stew”, “simmer”, “saute”, “blanch”, “tender”, “translucent”.
Collaboration: A preschooler can stir pancake mix while the toddler pours in milk.
Food changes: Learn how food changes as it is mixed into other foods.
Cooking techniques: Learn how to arrange ingredients and get utensils and serving plates ready before cooking. Learn methods like “whisking”, “pouring gradually”, “turning” an egg, placing a mixing bowl on top of a damp cloth so it doesn’t slip.
We learn kitchen safety
Build awareness about the importance of washing hands before preparing food and using a sturdy step stool or chair.
Teach why we should wash hands after handling raw meat and before cutting up a salad.
Demonstrate how to exercise care when using a knife. Show how to keep a wrist away from the frying pan while doing a stir fry. Remind kids to stand back to avoid the sizzle while raw veggies are tossed into a pan of hot garlic oil.
We taste and savour …
What a wonderful feeling to eat something we’ve grown, prepared, or cooked together!
Things I have learned?
First, children can have fun learning how to make informed and independent food choices.
Second, food and nutrition education happens best in a home learning environment where there are coherent and consistent food practices, where kids are active participants in their learning and have good opportunities to put into practice what they have learned.
Useful information on food and nutrition education can be found in this OFSTED document.
I hope to get more creative lessons going in our Nutrition and Food Education Program at home. Any ideas to share?
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