Giving little ones a fun and engaging introduction to food from a young age can spark an interest in nutrition and what we eat.
At Learning Resources we believe that learning through play is the best way to learn, and play food is a great example of this. Here are our tips to get your little ones talking about food and improving their understanding about it – all while having fun!
Food grouping games will teach your child a lot about food and nutrition. There are some great printables for learning about the five food groups, but beyond that, you can create your own grouping charts. Just grab a large sheet of paper and some pens and draw some circles. Then either use real food, play food, or cut outs from food magazines (you can pick up free at most supermarkets) and get grouping! What’s more, this is a great way of improving a child’s fine motor skills as they place the food within a circle.
Group foods based on whether they are healthy or unhealthy. Talk to your little one about the foods that you can have ‘sometimes’ and as a treat, versus foods that are needed to give our bodies energy.
Beyond this, you can set them tasks which will demonstrate their food recognition and understanding, such as: “Can you pick out all of the vegetables from this pile of food?” This may spark conversations about what makes a food a vegetable. Which leads nicely onto our next foodie activity…
Where food comes from
Talking to children of any age about where food comes from is a great way of improving their understanding of what food is. But better still, get out there and see it first hand!
Heading out to the garden and growing your own is a great way to demonstrate how food is made. If you need some gardening inspiration, take a look at Liz’s Vegetable Patch post. If you’re not lucky enough to have a garden, or you’re just not green-fingered, why not head to a local allotment, or even a farmer’s market or farm instead and start the conversation about where food comes from.
Seasonal activities such as visiting a pumpkin patch or going strawberry picking are also great for this and allow little hands to fully experience fruit and veg in a hands-on way.
Fun fact: strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside!
Around the world in 80 foodie ways!
Exploring foods from around the world will open up your child’s palette (and maybe even your own). It will spark conversations around cultures and the origins of foods across the globe and is a fantastic way to introduce an understanding of diversity.
Older children may also enjoy learning native languages as part of learning about foods from around the world. For example, if you are teaching them about Italian food, why not see how many pasta types you can name and pronounce – tagliatelle, cannelloni and fettuccine are amongst some of the more challenging!
Play food encourages imaginative play. Think beyond basic fruit and veg and spark their imagination with a set like our New Sprouts® Stir Fry Set. This is an ideal way to get young hands exploring continental foods. This fun set comes with a takeaway container, wok and tongs – which are perfect for fine tuning their fine motor skills.
Sensory fun with food
The saying ‘you eat with your eyes’ may have some truth, but getting other senses involved is a really fun way of discovering foods.
Involve the sense of touch by hiding real food items in a paper bag, let little hands feel them and guess what’s inside. Better yet, get them to describe what they’re feeling as they go. Textural food items like kiwis, shredded lettuce, cooked pasta or avocados are perfect for this!
Similarly, you can do blindfolded smell tests of foods to get kids guessing. Encourage early vocabulary by asking them to describe the smell. Both of these inventive activities make great group games, ideal for developing social skills.
Finally, curb their curiosity! After talking about, and playing with, lots of different foods, little ones may be curious to taste test. Children are notoriously fussy eaters, so don’t be alarmed if they turn their noses up at first.
Let little hands get involved
Food is an essential part of our everyday lives, so it makes sense for children to get involved with more than just the eating.
They can find fun and enjoyment in everything that goes with preparing meals and snacks. This includes the weekly food shop! We have a whole bunch of fun ways to keep children entertained at the supermarket, including letting them take charge of the shopping list.
Letting your little one help with meal preparation is a great introduction to the work that goes into making a delicious meal. We’re not for a minute suggesting you let them loose with sharp knives, but instead set them tasks suitable for their age. Little jobs they can do independently. This could include washing potatoes and vegetables, cracking eggs, helping to get food from the fridge or pantry, or weighing out ingredients – which is also beneficial to their maths skills!
What’s more, getting young ones involved with serving up is a great way to get talking about portion sizes and what makes a balanced plate of food.
However you get your children talking about and exploring food, there is a lot of fun to be had and a lot to learn along the way. Stick with it and introduce new foods and our suggested food games and activities over time so that little ones don’t feel overwhelmed.
We’d love to see you trying out some of our ideas, share them with us on Instagram – @learningresourcesuk!