All the charts on the walls, all the food pyramids on the fridge won't turn your kids on to good food and nutrition like getting their hands and hearts into it will. Getting them involved with food, making it connect to everyday experiences, helping them to see food as a part of culture and history, or art and science will make nutrition and healthy eating fun and interesting.
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.
The set up: 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. Those include only those your imagination can put to use. Yogurt containers with lids, (fill with beans to make a tambourine), an old oatmeal box (good drum material), plastic bowls (for stirring and mixing), plastic measuring spoons, wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, plastic cookie cutters, rolling pin, plastic measuring cups
Some project ideas:
- Salt dough: If you haven't already experienced salt dough, you will be more than happy with this new discovery. It was a real mainstay in my house for many years. Together you and your child can mix up the dough, then you can set him to work molding, sculpting, rolling and cutting, pounding and squishing.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
a little less than 1/2 cup water
Mix flour and salt, add water until mixture holds together like dough, knead.
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 they can be painted. Some great ideas are: hand impression plaques, cookie cutter ornaments, animal sculptures, beads and free form shapes.
- Fruit or vegetable people: Use fruits and vegetables that are edible when raw. Use toothpicks or peanut butter to put the pieces together.
Some people you can make:
Curtis Cucumber: Begin with a small cucumber for the body, poke a hole in each side and insert a couple of green beans for arms. Two small cherry tomatoes can be applied as bulging eyes. A small carrot stick, or baby carrot inserted for the nose. Make a smile with a red pepper slice, add parsley for hair. While you are creating this green man, you can talk about how eating carrots help you see in the dark, that red peppers help cuts to heal faster. Talk about how the food is grown, then follow that up with growing a garden in the summer. After having made this clever creation, she may just be enticed to eat him. Or, serve him at dinner time for the whole family to enjoy. Her pleasure in your reaction may also inspire her to take a few bites of those fresh vegetables.
Annie Apple: This is really a creation on a flat plate. Cut two round apple slices for big eyes, add some blueberry pupils, a strawberry nose, orange section ears, banana cheeks, grapefruit section smile, and orange and apple peel curls for hair. You can use the rest of the fruits for a mixed salad. On your little ones plate is a fruit filled smiley face begging to be eaten. Offer a little vanilla yogurt for dipping the fruit into.Try your collective imagination at creating Tommy Tomato, Penelope Peach, Pepper Pete, Buster Banana, or make up some other creations like melon boats and banana cars. All the while you can discuss what the food is, who else likes to eat it (monkeys, kids on the other side of the world, grandma) and how else it is used (juice, tomato sauce, soups).
- Bean bags: Fill a couple of ziplock sandwich bags with dried beans, offer a target and allow a little bean bag tossing.
- Pretzel animals: In a big bowl mix together 1 package yeast, 1.5 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Stir in 4 cups 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.
- Muffin mixes: You can find some wholesome ones that require only an egg and milk to be added. An easy project with quick results.