I read a post on social media recently by a nutritionist that said, “it's never ok for children to eat McDonalds.”
This could spark worldwide debate, I'm sure, but let's explore the idea a bit deeper. What exactly is healthy eating for children? How do we get them more excited about nourishing foods than the Happy Meal?
According to Nutrition Australia, the food that children should be eating on a daily basis is a range of fruits, vegetables, dairy, legumes, meats. This is based off Nutrition Australia's guide for 3-6 year olds.
Some ideas to get children comfortable and knowledgeable about healthy foods are as follows:
Let children pack their own lunchboxes
Have only healthy options available
Make healthy foods with kids, like easy flavoured yogurt or fruit smoothies
Have children assist with meal preparations and the cooking process
Create in-house competitions, like a mini master chef
Getting children excited about healthy living doesn't just stop at home. The classroom plays a big role as well. Below are some great ideas from Victoria's Healthy Eating Advisory that can help introduce healthy eating topics to the classroom.
The Veggie Guessing Bag
Try this activity to increase children’s recognition and awareness of different vegetables. Place some vegetables (real or plastic) in a bag. Ask children to feel inside the bag and guess which vegetables are there. As a variation, blindfold children and place a vegetable in their hands. Ask them to guess what the vegetable is by feeling, smelling and even tasting it.
Odd one out
Say a series of four words including three vegetables and one odd word, for example, “carrot, potato, cat, onion”. Ask children to identify the odd word. Make the game more challenging by using an odd word that is also a food, for example, “celery, capsicum, carrot, yogurt”. Ask the children why the odd word does not belong with the rest of the group.
Create a vegetable person
Create a ‘vegetable person’ using real vegetables or pictures of vegetables. Help children use toothpicks to make their vegetable person stand up and be three dimensional. If using real vegetables, encourage children to eat their vegetable person for morning or afternoon tea.
Excursions to places like a farm, food market, supermarket, bakery or butcher are fun and educational. Major supermarkets are offering these experiences to classes on a regular basis in most capital cities. Usually, children will also get a free piece of fruit during their visit.
Food Labelling Game
Talking about fruit and vegetables helps children recognise and become familiar with different varieties. Cut out fruit and vegetable shapes from coloured felt and ask children to label each item as they are placed on a felt board. Sing songs and read stories about the fruit and vegetables on the board.
Having a theme day
Offer different kinds of healthy foods to try on a special theme day. For example, on 'apple day' offer all different kinds such as green apples, red apples, dried apples, pureed apples and canned apples. We are yummy snack makers
Use flash cards or cut out pictures of foods from brochures that can be used to make a healthy, tasty snack. Some examples are toast, cheese and tomato, fruit with yogurt, capsicum and carrot sticks with mashed avocado, scrambled eggs with English muffins. These could be given to the centre chef to prepare with the children.
Planting herbs or vegetables (outside or in pot plants inside)
Create a veggie patch and encourage children to water and care for the plants. Use the exercise as an opportunity to discuss where food comes from and how it grows. Some easy to grow, edible produce includes tomatoes, peas, beans, snow peas and herbs.
Make a food cupboard out of a large piece of cardboard by folding in both the side edges to form the doors. Draw shelves in the cupboard. Glue food pictures onto the cardboard backing for durability. Children can stack shelves with food pictures and take food out of the cupboard to prepare imaginary meals. Be sure to put only healthy choices in this cupboard, encourage children to pick from the groups of the food pyramid.
Learning about food in different cultures
Celebrating different cultures and festivals with food is delicious and fun for children. You could make vegetable and lean meat dumplings for Chinese New Year, eat wholemeal pancakes morning tea on Shrove Tuesday, make an Irish soda bread to eat on St Patrick’s Day or decorate hard boiled eggs with food dye for Easter. On Harmony Day, you could celebrate all world cuisines and ask children to research a dish from a variety of different countries.
Sing a song about food and nutrition
Try these fun food songs from Australian performers: Watermelon by Justine Clarke, Fruit Salad or Hot Potato by The Wiggles or Wash Your Face in Orange Juice by Peter Combe. You can search ‘fun food songs for children’ on the internet for more ideas.
With these great ideas to share with families and to implement in your classroom, I am sure you can get children excited about healthy foods while remembering that life is all about balance.
By Nicole Hicks, Early Years Specialist