How to help young children learn about food

How to help young children learn about food

For all children to develop a healthy relationship with food it’s important to consider how we talk to them and teach them about food; this is especially true for picky eaters.

Feeding therapists and paediatric dietitians say that young kids do not need and are not yet able to learn the complex details of nutrition, which can vary for each individual’s situation. And, it’s best to not describe food as good or bad, or even healthy or unhealthy. Talking about “good” foods could make kids feel like if they like the “bad” foods, they must be bad themselves, or might make kids want the bad foods even more. Instead we can talk about how it’s important for your body to eat many different foods, to eat to a schedule (not graze all day), and if kids get unhelpful messages about foods from outside the home (this often happens with sugar or packaged foods), we can explain how it’s all “just food” and it’s important to enjoy food and eat a variety. 

If you’re interested to learn more about this here are a couple of wonderful articles by dietitians Anna Lutz – A School Nutrition Lesson and Natalia Stasenko – Age-appropriate Ways to Talk to Small Kids About Nutrition

At Learn Play Eat, we want children who are picky eaters to be able to get to know and explore food in a no-pressure, fun environment. If they can enjoy exploring food through their senses, they are more likely to be able to progress towards being able to eat it.

For children to be able to explore food, they need to have the vocabulary to be able to describe it. We parents can help with this by describing food we are eating in an objective and concrete manner, for example, “carrots are cold, smooth, sweet, crispy, orange and sound loud when I bang them on the table like a drum stick!”. Rather than “carrots are good for you”. And we can ask our kids questions to start them thinking more about their food, e.g. “What colour is the corn? How does it feel on your fingers? Is it softer than the carrot?”. 

We can also help children get to know food by talking about where the food comes from (A farm? A factory? Where is it? What language do they speak there?), how it is processed and packaged before it gets to us, the different parts of the food, and how it is cooked so that we can eat it. Other activities to do with children which might help with this include:

  • Helping to cook dinner
  • Growing your own veggies
  • A trip around a food market and talking to the stall owners
  • Visiting a restaurant which serves a type of food you don’t usually eat (even if they’re not ready to eat it yet)
  • Looking at all the options in your local bakery
  • Visiting a ‘pick your own’ farm
  • Reading recipe books or other books about food
  • Watching TV shows about food

We’ll talk more about some of the TV shows and movies we like, which help children learn about food, in our next post.