McNeill Mann is the Natural Education Coordinator at Mountain Sun Community School in Brevard. With a background in environmental and experiential education, McNeill looks for opportunities for her students (and herself) to connect with nature, learn useful skills, and be joyful outdoors. Mandi Bentley was born and raised in Transylvania county and has worked at Transylvania County Parks and Recreation for the last 9 years. Mandi oversees all programs and supervises recreation staff at Silvermont and the Recreation Center. Diane Nelson is a mom to two young boys and support the work of GetSet Toolkits.
Want your kids to try new foods? Allow them to use all their senses when eating, even if things get messy. “Don’t play with your food” has always been a dinner rule. Letting kids use their senses to explore new foods gives them positive food experiences and encourages them to eventually taste foods they are initially skeptical of.
Activities like preparing salads, growing a garden, taking trips to pick berries, and participating in “sensory sessions” where children touch, listen, taste, and smell different kinds of foods—then share observations with each other can make a difference in how your child views food. Researchers say this sensory-based education helps children explore food with all five senses and instills a joy of eating. Just as kids can learn subjects like math and language through a variety of ways—with experiments, hands-on activities, and play food—not just through visual input. Learning about food is no different.
Here are a few things to try with your littles that we’ve either had tried on us or tried with our own kids (with success!)
• I had a “science kit” that I LOVED as a four-year-old that was baking soda, vinegar, a box of food coloring, and a variety of random containers (my mom worked in a laboratory so I had test tubes etc. but any kitchen items would work). I spent hours (days??) mixing colors and making the baking soda and vinegar bubble.
• Put dry beans (garbanzos are great!) and rice in a bowl. Provide some kid-sized spoons or tweezers and see what happens. Using the utensils for play helps kids learn to hold and maneuver them without pressure of putting them in their mouth. If your child is 3+, help them count spoonfuls, beans, etc.
• Arrange the food in a certain face or shape on their plate and talk about what part of the object they might try first.
• Let your child help you in the kitchen. Simple things, like making Jiffy cornbread muffins, expose children to skills like measuring and pouring liquids and solids. I usually do the measuring and let them pour given their current developmental age. Cracking an egg is fun too. Mixing up batter is good exercise for the hand and arm and builds a strong grip. Lastly, seeing the transformation of the food before and after the oven helps seed their scientific curiosity.
• While most kitchen doors and drawers get shut off to toddlers, I’ve designated one drawer and one cabinet to which they have access to safe cooking and baking equipment. The shear joy of opening/ closing a door/drawer provides entertainment in addition to the spatulas, funnels, pans, and lids in side. Having this activity in the kitchen while you prepare a meal gives children the ability to observe you, (if they aren’t too busy playing!)
Here are some other creative ideas we discovered in preparing to write this. Not necessarily tried and true, but fun all the same.
• Draw an outline of a rainbow. After a meal color it in with the colors of the food from the meal.
• Hide a vegetable or fruit in a paper or cloth bag. Ask children to put their hand in the bag and guess what the food is. Use foods with different textures, shapes and sizes: Fuzzy (peach, kiwi), Smooth (tomatoes, apple), Bumpy (potato, strawberries), Long (carrot, cucumber, celery). (source: https://family-medicine.ca/images/BusyBodies.pdf)
• Create a game memory using only food and vegetable pictures. Here is a link to one downloadable example.
• Look for books about food at your local library. Here are a few titles to get you started:
o Why are Pineapples Prickly? – Christopher Maynard
o The First Strawberries – Joseph Bruchac
o The Perfect Pizza – Michael Teitelbaum
o Does Cheese Grow on Trees? – Michael Teitelbaum
o Potluck – Anne Shelby
o Pancakes, Pancakes – Eric Carle
o Food ABC – Amanda Doering
o Why is an Orange called an Orange? – Cobi Ladner
o Source: (https://family-medicine.ca/images/BusyBodies.pdf)
• If you really want to go all out, make an “I Tried It” placemat. Directions are here. Our l ocal UPS store has printing and laminating capability if you need it.