When I started this blog Little D was a newborn and Big A was two. I wrote a lot about infant nutrition and pickiness in toddlers. I also wrote books about these stages including how to do dinner with young children.
My kids are both school-age now and it’s a different stage for sure. Little D (7) has began to expand his tastes. Big A (10) seems ready for more responsibility even though she doesn’t know it yet. My feeding strategies need some refreshing, and I have a new plan.
From School to Food
When my son had some learning challenges, I dug into the world of education. This is when I found the book Mindset and began to understand how children who have difficulty learning, need to learn. Of course, I applied all of this to learning about food.
For How to Raise a Mindful Eater, I looked into best-practices for teaching nutrition. I found that kids benefit most from experiential learning:
There is no shortage of attempts to educate kids about nutrition both in schools and at home. Schools often have programs or health classes for kids. According to one review, experiential or hands-on learning produced the best outcomes such as increased knowledge and a preference for fruits and vegetables. Yet they are the least likely to be used in class in favor of curriculum-based learning.
With food it’s more important to focus on experience, than to teach facts (this is healthy, that is healthy etc.). At these ages, I realize I need to get as many experiences into my kids as possible. Not just cooking and nutrition, but grasping a deeper understanding about food in general.
Of course, kids are learning from us all the time. But some children are quicker to pick up on food learning from everyday experiences than others. Cautious eaters in particular may be at a disadvantage. I put it this way in From Picky to Powerful:
You can think of children and food the same way as you think of children and learning. Cautious eaters need more exposure and practice than kids who take to food more easily. They benefit from learning about different food groups and how meals are put together (especially mixed dishes, which freak them out!).
Instead of just randomly talking about food here and there, my goal is add structure to it. So I’ve drafted up a learning plan. We have already discussed the taste and texture of food by reviewing the 5 tastes: bitter, sour, sweet, savory (umami) and salty. I had food examples, and encouraged the kids to touch and taste (if they want). We also talked about different ways to describe the texture of food: crisp, soggy, soft, chewy, creamy, crunchy, dense, firm, fluffy, grainy, gritty, smooth and spongy.
I had the kids make their own plates with food groups on them. Nothing fancy, but now they can use these plates at meals. During our family style service, if they don’t want an item on their plate they can put it on their plate to learn more about it etc.
My plan moving forward
I plan to hit up each food group, starting with grains. We already had one session on different pastas and the kids are now charged with making their own pasta dish. I plan to keep posting highlights of this adventure and eventually turn it into a workbook — one for kids — and one of the teacher (parents).
One very important thing to remember (and I’m reminding myself) is that this is about food learning, not getting children to eat. If my kids don’t eat anything new from the experience I’m okay with that. My intention is to teach them more about food and hopefully create exciting new connections for them. But if the goal is to get them to eat, it will feel like a chore for everyone.
I think these type of lessons are appropriate for younger school-age kids who can read and write (around first grade and up but it could work for some kindergarteners).
This got to thinking about my readers with younger kids. I decided to create a new email list sharing my top posts from years past, which are geared toward younger children. So if you have younger kids, sign up for my Raise Healthy Eaters list and you’ll get 2-3 emails a month on topics based on my 15-top tips. Also good for new subscribers not familiar with my work.
I’ll leave with this quote from Benjamin Franklin. Have a great weekend!
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”