Little Kids

Why you should let your kids play with their food

Want your kid to be an adventurous eater? Make food an adventure! A study found that teaching kids to use their senses to explore food reduced pickiness.

Why you should let your kids play with their food

Photo: iStockphoto

Want your kid to opt for healthy foods? Give them a hands-on food education. Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland used a method of teaching three- to five-year-olds about food that involved all of their five senses, and found that it resulted in the children choosing more fruits and vegetables. The child-engaged sensory-based learning was done in the classroom setting, but University of Eastern Finland researcher and nutritionist, Kaisa Kähkönen, says parents can incorporate many of the strategies into meal and snacktimes at home. Here are a few you can try for yourself.

Create a buzz around produce. To a parent, a trip to the grocery store is just another task on the to-do list, but to a young child, everything is new. An orange isn’t just an orange—ask them what it looks like. (A ball, perhaps?) What does it smell like? And what do they think is inside that thick peel? 

Offer a buffet of healthy foods. Children should be able to make their own selections from a buffet of options, and portion out their own serving sizes, rather than having an adult decide what they should eat. You can encourage them to try new things, but never force it, says Kähkönen.

Keep ingredients separate. Though, as adults, we like a mixture of flavours to excite our palates, it’s important for young kids to have a chance to taste individual foods on their own, especially when new foods are being introduced, so they know just what they’re tasting and can savour that flavour. Then, if they want to mix foods together (putting berries in their yogurt, for example), encourage them to prepare those ingredients in a way that suits them.

Ask them to describe each food. If you ask a child whether they like that tomato, they can give one of two answers—and you might not like the one you get. Instead, ask: What does it taste like? What shape is it? What colour is it? When they’re not thinking in terms of good or bad, they’re more likely to find something they appreciate about the food.

Make food fun. “There can be a lot of stress around the eating situation,” says Kähkönen—especially for picky eaters who have been under pressure to put things on their plates. New foods should be introduced in neutral—or even fun—situations. Try painting with blueberries or making prints with hand-carved potato stamps to explore the foods' colours and textures.

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