I recently watched this video from Jamie Oliver’s new project and it’s seeming like more and more children these days have no idea where their food comes from, what it’s made of, or what it even is outside of a fast food container. In order for our children to have better health, they must have better nutrition; and if you want better nutrition, you’ve got to teach your kids about food. It starts with that first spoonful of pureed carrots and you as the parent, have so much power to raise your children to be healthy eater from the highchair on up! Here are my five best tips for teaching your babies and toddlers about food and laying the groundwork for them to be food wise for a lifetime.
1. Presentation Matters. I’m not talking about fancy dishes or fine silver baby spoons, but think about how you present food to your baby or toddler. Do you just serve up a spoonful of puree or put down the plate? Or, do you tell them what it is they’re eating? From those very first days of baby foo, talk to your kiddo and tell them what it is they’re eating. “Look at the bright orange carrots!” “We’re having chicken with rice and broccoli tonight.” It doesn’t take much time, just some intentional thought, and you’re slowly introducing children to the foods they’re eating.
2. Take them grocery shopping or let them help put up the groceries. Hands on experience with whole fruits and veggies will help them be able to name them later on, identify which ones are fresh, and pick out bright, colorful photonutrients for life! Now again, while you’re shopping or putting up veggies, talk to your kiddos about the produce and use descriptive language. “These apples are bright and red!” “Can you smell those strawberries! They must be getting ripe!” Check out my post about Bountiful Baskets homeschool lessons for more ideas on interacting with whole fruits and veggies at the store/home.
3. Let them play with their food and feed themselves. I know it’s messy. Trust me, I know. We’ve got quinoa stuck to the table, spaghetti sauce on the backs of the chairs, and squash on the walls, so I know what I’m asking of you, but I promise it’s worth it! Children learn through play and more specifically, through self-directed play. Your toddler isn’t just putting applesauce in his hair to spite you. He’s learning about the texture of the applesauce, how lumpy or smooth it is, how thick it is. Not only is this important for sensory development, but some research implies it helps children to learn and develop deductive reasoning. So, let them play with their potatoes and just hold off on painting the kitchen walls for a few years.
4. Variety is key. Prepare a variety of foods in a variety of ways. Did you know that you can mash carrots like potatoes, or make muffins with zucchini? Provide your children opportunities to eat a variety of foods, but don’t be dismayed if they aren’t fond of steamed cauliflower. They might still like cauliflower pizza. You might have to get creative and hit up Pinterest, but there are millions of different ways to prepare your favorite fruits and veggies and in doing so, you might help your little one discover that they really do love eggplant.
5. Plant a garden and visit a local farm. Oh, this is one of my favorites! There’s no better way to teach your kids about our food and food supply, then growing your own. Tomatoes are easy to grow and many varieties do well in containers. Peppers are known for withstanding the Texas heat. A little sunlight and you grow herbs on a window sill. Even if your thumb is as brown as they come, many farms and ranches will let families tour or do berry picking. These are great ways to teach your children from a young age where their food comes from. I’d also suggest this book for story time on this subject. (Side note: be aware that talking about where our meat comes from, while important, might upset some children. Be mindful of your child’s personality, or at least be willing to cook vegan for a little while, or maybe forever.)
Now, if you’re new to the world of healthful eating, or maybe you are just starting to learn about our food system yourself, it’s not too late! Yes, these tips are geared towards very young children, but they work for kids (and adults) of all ages, and it’s never, ever too late to start caring more about what we eat and where it comes from.
Comment below and tell me, what’s your best tip for educating your little ones about their food?