March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Food offers a world of experiences well suited to how children learn. Because food can become a "hands-on" activity, everyday tasks can get kids involved in food – and so promote healthful eating. Try these simple ways to explore food with young children:
- As you walk the store aisles, encourage children to name the fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle or the canned food aisle, or to say the colors of foods they know. Find foods that are new to them; talk about their color, shape, size and feel.
- At home, as you take vegetables out of grocery bags, talk about the part of the plant each one grows on: leaf (cabbage, lettuce, greens), roots (carrot, potato), stalk (celery, asparagus), flower (broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke) and seed (peas, corn).
- Grow foods from seed in your backyard garden. Perhaps start the seeds in paper cups on your windowsill. Kids enjoy eating foods they grow themselves – and it's a great science lesson!
- Have children help decide what foods to serve. Perhaps show them pictures of vegetables and fruits. Have them pick the ones to make for family meals.
- As preschoolers are ready, give them simple tasks to help with family meals. They might wash fruit, arrange bread in a basket, put ready-to-eat cereal in bowls or help set the table. Most children like to help. They feel good about themselves when they can say, for example, "I poured it!" Working together in the kitchen offers many chances to nurture children.
- Expand their world by reading books about food to children. Ask a librarian, preschool teacher or head of the children's book department in a store to suggest titles. Prepare some foods from the stories.
Reviewed January 2014 Roberta Duyff, MS, RD, FAND, is author of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide and 365 Days of Healthy Eating.