This is not an article about how to deal with fussy-eating (even though it may solve some of those problems!) What this article seeks to achieve is to plant a seed of curiousity about food in kids, especially since it’s such a huge part of our lives. I want to improve the relationship your kids have with food, because it teaches them about sustainability, food wastage, why we eat what we eat, and all the exciting flavour and smell profiles of food. Who knows, you may even have the next junior Masterchef in the making! Getting children interested in food begins from a young age, so let’s get started.
1. Allow them to play with food
Do you remember a time when your parents would chide you or your younger siblings for playing with food? Times are different now. Food play is actually encouraged in babies who are just starting to eat solid food. It makes children interested in food by allowing them to explore the feel, texture, shape, and taste of food.
At the same time, kids progress towards cutlery as they grow. As they move on to using utensils, you can still engage them in “food play” through using food in art. The cross-sections of some fruits and vegetables make really good stencils when painted and stamped on paper. Some interesting ones include starfruit, okra, capsicum, onions, celery, and tomatoes. Through art, kids become familiar with the structural components of fruits and vegetables, while learning about edible and inedible bits too.
2. Grow a vegetable garden
You can get children interested in food by letting them grow their own fruits and vegetables, and you don’t need a huge plot of land to do this! All that’s required is a little windowsill pot. Also, don’t worry about seeds. Some vegetables are great for re-potting. You can easily start growing your own vegetables by planting the tail ends (where the roots were) of vegetables like carrots, celery, spring onion, and coriander in soil. Did you also know that each sprouted “eye” of a potato can be planted separately to yield many potato plants?
Getting your children involved in these little farming projects allow them to experience the amount of time that is required for plants to grow, while teaching them the importance of responsibility.
3. Allow them in the kitchen
Get children interested in food by having them help out with cooking. If your kids are too young to work with knives, give them simple tasks like separating the leaves from stems of vegetables. They can also peel shells of boiled eggs, help you wash rice, or measure out ingredients. Having them involved in the kitchen serves 5 purposes:
- They become familiar with the names of fruits and vegetables. This is especially important with young kids just starting to learn them. You can take this opportunity to teach them about the nutritional qualities of each food, and how beneficial it is for health!
- They learn essential food preparation and cooking skills at a young age.
- You can teach them how to reduce food wastage in the cooking process.
- They see the hard work that goes into cooking, which may make them less picky about food.
- It’s great bonding time for the family!
4. Create unique dining experiences
A lot of times, kids are bombarded with many distractions when they eat. The TV running in the background, music playing from the radio, interesting snippets of conversation from around the house…With all these stimulants going on, eating becomes almost secondary for a child. They end up not being mentally present during meal times. We want kids that eat mindfully, and we can cultivate such habits by creating an experience of it. Not every day of course—only sometimes. Just to get them interested in the dining experience.
Try blindfolding them and getting them to taste a dish placed before them; encourage them to use their hands. Ask them what they think they’re eating.
Try shutting out all stimuli except for one, like soft music in the background. Alternatively, choose fast music instead.
Cover the light source in the room with tinted cellophane; this changes the colour of food and makes their eating experience just that bit “cooler”.
Not only do these techniques make mealtimes more interesting, they get children to regard foods with a different perspective. Perhaps they start looking at foods they didn’t like in a different light. Literally—under blue light, their usually hated corn turns a funky green.
To take things one step further, ask them questions to get them thinking about the connection between their environment and the food on their plate. Some good questions include “Do you feel like we’re eating faster with the fast music? Why do you think that’s so?” or, “Does your corn taste better or worse when it’s green? Do you think you’d still eat it if it were simply yellow?
5. Bring them with you when you go marketing
I don’t know about you, but I rarely went to the market with my mum as a child. The wet and icky floor at the fishmonger’s, the dank air with rows and rows of raw meat at the butcher’s, and the earthy smell of soil at the greengrocer’s. Those were my only memories of the wet market. Now, years later, I suspect that because I was not exposed to it from a young age, I did not enjoy going to the wet market very much as an adult for a period of time.
So, dress your child up appropriately for the wet market (I think wellington boots would be a good idea, on hindsight), and explain away! Tell them about where the different fruits and vegetables grow (carrots, potatoes, and turnips underground, most leafy greens on ground, and most fruits on trees!) Show them what to look out for when picking the freshest fish. Explain the differences between the various cuts of chicken and meat.
Now, I see that there is so much to learn at the wet market, it is a field trip on its own. Cover a different topic each time you go. In time, you can ask your child to tell you which ingredients go in which dishes. Before you know it, they can do the marketing for you! Win-win.
Getting children interested in food does not happen by just sitting at the dining table.
Think about your favourite hobbies. It may be playing tennis on the weekends, sitting on the couch watching dramas on repeat, or trekking at nature reserves. They all require you to be actively involved, and invested in it. It’s the same with food—it starts from growing, or buying them, to preparing dishes in the kitchen, and finally savouring delicious meals. Let your child experience every aspect that goes into food consumption, and they may emerge with a new outlook as to what, and how they feed themselves!
It may take time, but sometimes, time is all we can give to our growing kids, right?