As parents these days we wear many hats. We are sports coaches, tutors, chauffeurs, sleep time wranglers and so often MasterChefs to our littlest gourmet critics. I would love a dollar for every time I have heard “I do not like that” around my own dinner table. Sometimes that chef hat is a tricky one to wear, especially when your smallest eaters have such big opinions. Children’s approach to food, meal times and healthy eating is scaffolded by our parenting, and as the chefs we determine our child’s food habits, food choices and food attitudes.
If we accept that children can be our toughest critics, then how can we frame the meal time conversation, tempt them to try and promote a positive attitude to food habits and choices in early childhood? Here are a few ingredients (ideas) to get your started.
Try, Try and Try again….
If we acknowledge that children need repeated opportunities to learn new skills, then the same approach should be considered with food. Children need time, repetition and a willingness to try and try again new foods in different forms, variations and styles. If it is not a favorite the first time, it may be something to offer another day. Create the expectation that children will try a new food at least three times. Being willing to try new food helps children experience new textures, tastes and flavours. Trying new foods should be presented as opportunity to be a food adventurer and a meal time explorer!
Food is a prosocial activity…
Eating a meal together is so much more than the food itself. It is an opportunity to talk, share and role model food behaviours to our children. Likewise, at Ganeinu, meal times are fun and engaging experiences for children. Sitting at a table with a group of friends has the benefits of positive peer modelling and interactions. As educators we call this a benefit of positive peer pressure. Children love to feel a sense of group belonging and so eating together creates community and a family like atmosphere. And you never know… but maybe a chance to eat something new and discover you actually enjoy it!
Food health awareness
Healthy eating means so much more to children and families who experience food allergies or food intolerances. Our educators support, inform and create an inclusive meal time environment, that respects and reinforces the importance of caring for everyone with food choices. Our Ganeinu children learn to recognise that everyone has their own specific healthy food choices and an understanding of allergy awareness. We speak about healthy food habits as being what we eat, but also what we know, learn and do for others at meal times. Food as a health concept, means supporting children to recognise that eating gives us energy and fuel to enjoy our day and to be active participants in learning. We embrace the Munch and Move NSW Department of Health initiative to support us to promote healthy eating and eating healthily within our program.
Little helpers make happy eaters….
Children simply love to be active participants in the food making, food growing and cooking process. Why not utilise this learning opportunity to further develop eating habits that promote a healthy body and mind? Help your children to select new fruits or vegetables to try, make a shopping list together, try a new recipe with your junior MasterChef or grow your own parsley. Our preschool cooks at Ganeinu pick herbs, plant crops and cultivate them to help with our meals.
Children will be far more willing to try new foods when they are part of the process and play a role in meal choices, preparation and serving. Allow children to serve themselves small portions of a meal. Feeling empowered to be part of the meal, always encourages children to eat a little more.
Choices and more choices….
We all like to feel that we have options, choice and some flexibility with food. As unique and capable individuals, children also need this same choice and sense of selection. Our Kosher Vegetarian (with fish) menu, provides children with choices and our educators help children to select fruits and vegetables from platters. When children are provided with healthy choices, they will select favourite foods, but also have an opportunity to try new foods. This same approach can work at home. A vegetable platter, a set of tongs and child sized plates provide children with an option to serve themselves and make a choice. When we only offer healthy foods, children cannot go wrong in picking which ones or how many. Finger food and bite sized portions invite children to eat, be part of the meal and enjoy food.
So happy cooking, eating and good health to all. We hope that by adopting a few of these ideas in your kitchens, that our youngest gourmet chefs will be healthy eaters, with equally healthy eating attitudes. Let’s get cooking with our five tips in mind…….
*Try, Try and Try again….
*Food is a prosocial activity…
*Food health awareness…
* Little helpers make happy eaters….
* Choices and more choices….