Food and nutrition education at home for kids

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.

Goal

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!

Puppy gets into vermicompost

Puppy gets into vermicompost

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.

Our latest harvest: White brinjals! These fat beauties were yummy in a hot steaming dish of tom yam fish

Our latest harvest: White brinjals! These fat beauties were yummy in a hot steaming dish of tom yam fish

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.

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Grate carrots.

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A toddler can peel and give garlic a rough chop using a butter knife.

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Anyone can treat raw chicken to a good marinade massage and have fun tucking garlic bits under the skin.

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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.

Precious moments!

Precious sibling moments!

Food changes: Learn how food changes as it is mixed into other foods.

Watch how egg changes colour as it blends into the mix

Watch how egg changes colour as it blends into the mix

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 use a solid wooden chair and IKEA's Bolmen plastic step stool. Both necessary when more than 1 kid is involved.

We let kids stand on a solid wooden chair or IKEA’s Bolmen plastic step stool that doesn’t slip.

We taste and savour …

What a wonderful feeling to eat something we’ve grown, prepared, or cooked together!

Homemade apple pancake

Homemade apple pancake

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?

 

Related posts:

Encouraging autonomy in toddlers through kitchen play

Happenings in our garden

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16 thoughts on “Food and nutrition education at home for kids

  1. Tamara

    It’s funny because my daughter just turned four and can do a lot more in the kitchen than I ever knew. She usually cooks and bakes with her dad so I hadn’t seen. She can perfectly crack an egg and sorta measure out things like sugar. I haven’t done flour with her, though! She’s never chopped anything but I think it’s much better to treat them to chop things safely, than to make them too frustrated and curious about knives!
    Tamara recently posted…Vertigo.My Profile

  2. Ing

    This is very interesting. I’ve not really heard of Food and Nutrition Education. But I guess I’ve been doing some of what you’ve described here, such as letting my kids help me out in the kitchen, cutting, chopping, washing vegetables, cracking and frying eggs etc… It’s so wonderful that you have space for gardening. We don’t have that luxury here where we stay. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Jin Ai Post author

    Flour can be oh so messy, yikes! It’s a hard job for me not to mind the mess and cleaning up, so I’m trying to keep the end goal in mind – so that kids can make something entirely on their own.

    Totally with you on the knives. I felt quite jittery when they first started with them but have observed they learn to be careful enough. So far so good! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Jin Ai Post author

    I came across the term only recently myself. The OFSTED document is very enlightening and affirms a lot of what we’ve been doing ๐Ÿ™‚ It also shows how early years settings such as playgroups and nurseries have a major role to play, and yet I see so many kindergartens dishing out rubbish on a weekly basis such as oily meals, sweetened milo, nuggets and sausages laden with nitrates.

    Even though our kids have been quite involved in the kitchen and food shopping, I realise I need to make more intentional use of our conversations to discuss nutrition and food choices. More for this Mama to learn!

  5. Rorybore

    my girls love to be with me in the kitchen. Now I am not an expert cook or baker, but we try and most important we have fun learning. and the really great thing is it brings back memories of being in my grandmas’ big country kitchen and “helping” her make bread, buns, pies, cakes….whatever. I like to think I am carrying on that tradition.
    Rorybore recently posted…Monday’s Music Keeping Me Awake: LouderMy Profile

  6. Jin Ai Post author

    Yes it is! I only wish I had more time for the garden but my growing belly is getting in the way.

  7. Jin Ai Post author

    Oh that picture of your grandma’s kitchen makes me drool. We bake our own bread too using a bread maker but it’s nothing as organic as having the floury feeling of dough on hands. Also, I haven’t progressed to the stage of buns and pies. Would really love to. Homeschooling and blogging is getting in the way, ugh!!

  8. June

    Love this post, Jin Ai. Reminds me that I should get my elder girl involved too in our kitchen pursuits! Toddler boy, on the other hand…hmm let me think what kind of help he can be involved in, without him gobbling everything up, edible or otherwise! ๐Ÿ˜›
    June recently posted…Bleeding at 15 weeks of pregnancyMy Profile

  9. Alison

    Very interesting! I spend a fair bit of time in the kitchen, but my oldest isn’t a fan of anything that happens in there, unfortunately. Sigh. Maybe my youngest, someday soon.
    Alison recently posted…Off He GoesMy Profile

  10. Jin Ai Post author

    After years of getting toddlers involved in the kitchen, you’d think I’d be used to them emptying out tubs of beans and grains on the floor. But I’m not! Ouch.

  11. Jin Ai Post author

    I must admit my kids’ involvement in the kitchen was more out of necessity in the first place. They kept persisting to be let in. Can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

  12. Britton

    Teaching food and nutrition is a great thing to do with children. My children often wander in the kitchen when I’m cooking a lot and I never really thought to actually get them involved in the preparation of our meals. I will be sure to do so next time and make it a learning experience. Stopping in from SITS!
    Britton recently posted…Girls Night In Wrap Up + Giveaway WINNER!My Profile

  13. Jin Ai Post author

    I sometimes find it a little hair raising with pots of boiling water involved, but the kids love the fact they’re actually cooking. Not pretending!

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