By Sue Gilbert, MS Nutritionist
All the charts on the walls, all the pyramids on the refrigerator won't turn your kids healthy eaters like getting their hands and imaginations into will. Get kids involved with food, make food connect to everyday experiences, and help them to see food as a part of culture, history, art or science.
Ideas for Little Children
The younger crowd has not yet been bombarded with nutrition facts and figures, or an overload of "eat it, it's good for you". They are still receptive and open to experiencing food. If you can set aside a small space in the kitchen and a small bit of your tolerance and patience (they are going to make a mess and waste some food) then they will begin to learn about food inside and out, while you sneak in a few comments about nutrition.
A Place of their Own
In a lower cupboard set aside at least the lower shelf for use by your baby and toddler. Supply it with the kitchen tools they need. Yogurt containers with lids, an old oatmeal box, plastic bowls, plastic measuring spoons, wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, plastic cookie cutters, rolling pin, plastic measuring cups and plastic pour spout containers, are all good material to start with. Only their imagination and yours limit how they will be used.
Salt Dough Sculptures
If you haven't already discovered salt dough, you will be more than happy with this new discovery. Together you and your children can mix up the dough, then you can set them to work molding, sculpting, rolling and cutting, pounding and squishing.
Directions: Mix flour and salt, add water until mixture holds together like dough, knead. This dough will keep in the refrigerator for a few days if stored in plastic.
Once the final shape has been decided, bake it in a warm oven (200 to 250) until dry. Thicker pieces will take longer and may be better air-dried. Once dried kids can paint the dough. Some great ideas are hand impression plaques, cookie cutter ornaments, animal sculptures, beads, and free form shapes.
Fruit or Vegetable People
Use raw, edible fruits and vegetables. Use toothpicks (under supervision with young ones) or peanut butter to put the pieces together. Some people you can make:
Fill a couple of zip lock sandwich bags with dried beans, offer a target and allow a little beanbag tossing. Better yet, sew your own beanbag with a fabric that your child picks out!
In a big bowl mix together 1 package yeast, 1.5 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of salt. Stir in 4 cups of white flour and 2 cups of whole-wheat flour. Knead on a counter dusted with flour until the dough is smooth. Shape into animal shapes, brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle with a little salt. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 425 degrees.
You can find some wholesome ones that require only an egg and milk to be added - an easy project with quick results.
Ideas for Older Children
Older children enjoy a little bit more responsibility and sophistication in their kitchen projects. Tired of hearing about which foods are good for them and which foods are not. Other aspects of food may help keep them interested while deepening their knowledge of food.
The Cultural Approach
For example, rent the movie Ghandi and order take out food from the local Indian restaurant. Kids may be more apt to try this new cuisine while watching the movie than under normal circumstances. This also makes a meal more special and allows kids to make a better connection between cultural food and people. This same idea can be applied to any age group. Making use of some classic old movies, try these ideas (or make the connections yourself with movies your children enjoy) How about Mary Poppins and a tea party with scones and tea ? The Sound of Music and some cheese fondue would be wonderful fun. Here is a fondue recipe that contains no wine (like the traditional recipe) and is easy enough for most kids to make, or help make.
Directions: Heat the milk in the top of a double boiler until simmering. Mix the flour and the grated cheese (it helps keep the cheese dispersed while melting instead of ending up in a big blob to sink to the bottom of the milk). Drop the cheese by handfuls into the hot milk and stir until the cheese is all melted and bubbly. Place the double boiler (or put into a fondue pot) and put in the middle of the table with the basket of bread cubes. Using fondue forks or regular forks, spear the bread and dip into the cheese.
The Economic Approach
This is a bigger project and will take lots of involvement on your part. Give your child a certain sum of money and allow them to plan, shop, and prepare a meal. Some preparation for this is to make sure you have some kid friendly recipes around the house. This can be a good experience learning about the price of food, why some people may end up going hungry, and how difficult it can be to make a budget work.
Back to Nature Approach
The best way to help children appreciate good food is to have them grow it themselves. Even the smallest of garden plots or patio planters will provide a big lesson in how food is grown and harvested. And nothing inspires vegetable eating like growing and picking it yourself.