As parents and carers, we are hugely aware of the fundamental importance of feeding our children nutritious healthy food but expecting children to conform with this ideal is not always as straightforward as one would hope. Having a toolbox of strategies to draw on can be invaluable in early years settings to support child engagement, interest and to also develop their growing awareness of the link between food, nutrition and health.
1. Eat through stories – Use stories to engage children with food and eating. Many traditional tales include food. One example is Goldilocks and the Three Bears, which offers a great chance to talk about the importance of breakfast, and making healthy food choices. You can explain that porridge is made from oats providing Goldilocks with energy to get through the day, as well as discussing healthy options for porridge toppings.
2. Use music and song – Engage children to eat well through music and songs. Singing about food can be a different media to share good food choices and some of the traditional songs such as ‘Five Fat Sausages’ and ‘Hot Cross Buns’ can provide an opportunity to talk about what children eat at home and seasonal food choices. A good example is the English nursery rhyme “Five currant buns in a bakers shop” and letting the children taste cherries. Children love to discuss their colour, texture and sweetness and the teacher can explain they contain natural fruit sugar which gives us energy. Cherries also help us to eat our daily rainbow as their red colour contains valuable nutrients and explaining they grow on trees in the summer, also helps children to begin to understand where our food comes from.
3. Grow your own – The miracle of growing their own food for snack time or to take home can encourage children to try something different. Foods that grow well in containers or small spaces include cress, baby gem lettuces, radishes, carrots and tomatoes. Tomato plants in pots put in a sunny spot, either inside on a window ledge or outside on a patio will provide a plentiful resource. These come in many different shapes, sizes and colours and are rich in vitamin C, which will help to keep their immune systems strong and protect their eyes and skin. For the children to see them turn from flower to fruit, and ripen from green to yellow or red would be a great project through the summer months.
4. Food and Play – Providing opportunities for children to be exposed to different foods can easily be incorporated into role-play. A café, restaurant or farmers market set up using real food can give children the chance to prepare, cut and taste food, as well as seeing and playing with fresh seasonal produce. They can even sell the food they grew in their cafe! By continuing the cafe theme you can also introduce early years cookery, which can be an ideal way to teach some basic cookery skills such as cutting soft foods such as dates and apricots with scissors, counting out ingredients, mixing, mashing and using a rolling pin. There are plenty of great recipes that don’t require baking such as dips, smoothies and vegetable and fruit kebabs.
About the author
The Food Teacher, Katharine Tate, is a qualified nutritional therapist, teacher, mum, and entrepreneur who has over 20 years experience working with children and schools in the UK, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. She has founded The Food Teacher brand that combines her passion for education and nutrition to deliver a healthy childhood, focusing on promoting family health through food and lifestyle.