I read a post on social media yesterday by a nutritionist that said: “It is never ok for children to eat McDonald’s!”
This could spark a worldwide debate I am sure, so I may leave this statement there and delve into what exactly is healthy eating for children and then look at how do we get them excited as much as other foods in society might!
According to Nutrition Australia – the food that children should be eating on a daily basis is a range of fruits, vegetables, dairy, legumes, meats.
Some basic ideas to get children excited about healthy foods and to share with families include:
- Letting children pack their own lunchboxes
- Having only healthy options available
- Making healthy foods – like your own flavoured yoghurt, fruit smoothies
- Having children assist with meal preparations and the cooking process
- Making in house competitions – like a mini master chef
For early learning centres, Healthy Eating Advisory Service in Victoria has some great ideas for your classroom.
Healthy Eating Activities for 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 (e.g. pillow slip). 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, yoghurt”. 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. The major supermarkets are offering these experiences on a regular basis in most capital cities – and children also get a 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 healthy apple day offer green apples, red apples, dried apples, pureed apple and canned apples.
We are Yummy Snack Makers
Use flash cards or cut out pictures of foods from brochures to make a healthy, tasty snack. Some examples are toast, cheese and tomato, fruit with yoghurt, 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
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. Stephanie Alexander has a great initiative for children’s gardens – check this option out also!
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 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 pyramid food groups!
Learn 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 and decorate hard-boiled eggs with food dye for Easter. Or celebrate all cultures together on Harmony Day.
Make Songs About Nutrition
Try these fun food songs from Australian performers: Watermelon (Justine Clarke), Fruit Salad or Hot Potato (The Wiggles), Wash your face in orange juice (Peter Combe). You can search for ‘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, but remember life is all about balance!