The way in which a child learns about food, health, and what foods they enjoy is influenced by what they are exposed to in their daily environment. Younger children learn so much through playing freely with toys and with other children. All children learn from what they witness their parents do and say. Children at a preschool age through adolescence are influenced by their peers as well as a variety of media (television, movies, magazines, and Internet).
The important thing to recognize is that healthy eating is not necessarily intuitive, especially in today’s society. Consider all the ways in which your child is influenced about food. They see commercials on TV, observe eating experiences in the home and see what foods their friends eat. As a parent, these are things you can control in the feeding dynamic:
• What foods you buy, prepare and offer to your kids
• What foods you eat with them
• When, where and how you set up mealtimes
Being a good role model for your children when it comes to nutrition and mealtimes is a critical way in which their learning is shaped. If you wish to take it one step further, there are food-related activities you can do with your kids that “speak their language”. These activities help them learn the importance of eating healthy, and that it is acceptable to try new foods. Here is a list of things to try with your kids:
Food Activities For Toddler/Preschool Children:
- Read simple books about food and eating.
- Let your children watch you make meals. Talk to them about what you are doing. Allow them to do simple things like stirring and pouring.
- Color pictures of healthy foods.
- Have play food and even a play kitchen. Play with them and make sure to pretend eating the healthy foods you want them to eat.
- Have them name foods that are the different colors of the rainbow. Make a “rainbow” meal.
Food Activities For Elementary Children:
- Talk about the food groups as well as the basics of why each is important.
- Take your children to the grocery store or farmers’ market and have them pick out fruits and vegetables.
- Have them read you the recipe steps when you are cooking meals.
- Plant simple vegetables with them in a garden. Harvest them together and use them in a meal.
- Have “theme meals” (fiesta, rainbow, dippers, shapes, etc).
Food Activities For Middle School Children:
- Ask them to help you with cooking.
- Have them to develop meal ideas that you can then prepare.
- Ask them to explain how foods affect health, then have a discussion about why nutrition is important.
- Take them to the grocery store or farmers’ market and have them pick out fruits and vegetables.
- Ask them to write a menu for the family dinners for a week.
Food Activities For High School Children:
- Have them prepare simple recipes.
- Let them experiment in the kitchen.
- Offer to let them invite friends over for dinner.
- Have positive conversations about what is occurring in their lives during breakfast or dinner.
- Have a cooking competition in the family in which each family member creates a dish and everyone votes on the best one. In addition, you can ask your teens to participate in “taste-testing” new recipes and they can rate them on scorecards.
If your child has nutrition-related health issues or has a poor diet, schedule an appointment to see a registered dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy. 847-999-4385. Our registered dietitians can utilize these activities along with other therapies and educational tools to help improve your child’s health.