How can you encourage children to engage with food?

Shireen Jayyusi
28 June, 2017 : 11:46
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Debunking the mystery of food

Recent studies by Leaf (Linking Environment and Farming) show that 1/5 children in the UK have no idea bacon comes from pigs. 

While there has been a clear improvement in food quality in schools in recent years, most children still don’t know where their food comes from. Understanding the origins of food is one factor impacting the eating habits, attitudes to food and food behaviours of our children.

Why does encouraging good food habits in children matter?

Dietary habits acquired in childhood often persist into adulthood. Educating children about food and nutrition in the kitchen and the classroom, and giving them lifelong practical food-related skills, will empower them to lead healthier lives. Partly as a result of fast food culture, one in three children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.

Top tips for parents to encourage healthy eating in children

So, what are we waiting for? Here are seven tried and tested tips.

1. Get Outside

Most kids love being outdoors and this can be a great opportunity to teach them about food. There’s no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothes! Whether or not you have your own vegetable patch, there are many ways to get kids involved in growing and harvesting food, which is a key motivation in persuading children to eat them. At home you can grow herbs easily on your kitchen window. If you grow your own vegetables then you can show them how much fun digging and planting seeds can be. Additionally, there are many farms where you can pick your own fruit and vegetables.

2. Lead by Example

More than a third of the vegetables eaten by children are highly processed, coming from sources like pizza or baked beans. As parents, we are often too busy to spend copious amounts of time trying to get our kids to eat well. Yet, in light of this we often underestimate the importance of leading by example.  Over time, children pick up our habits and accept the norms of the household. We can show our kids how eating good, nutritious foods can be enjoyable!

3. Experiment

It takes children time and repeated neutral exposure to learn to eat new food. Neutral exposure means including the food in family meals and enjoying it yourself without applying outside pressure. To learn to eat new food, children watch us eat. Bee Wilson, author of How We Learn to Eat on The Food Assembly’s blog, explains: “Feeding is more about building up a child’s palate than about getting them to ingest this or that nutrient.” She advises it’s important to, “focus less on the next five minutes and more on the next five years”.

4. Shop locally (and take them with you)

Even if you don’t normally shop at a local farm shop or farmer's market, going to a local shop regularly can help your kids understand more about the origins of their food. Giving them the opportunity to chat to farmers or foodmakers whenever possible, ask questions and try local products is invaluable. As you pick your food ask your children to help. They will learn more about food and stay occupied as you make your way around the market.

5. Cook with them

Kids love to be in the kitchen. It’s hard when we’re all so busy, but worth setting aside some time on a regular basis to have the kids help you prepare a meal from scratch. Children love to see the evolution of the dish and feel involved. When they eat, it’s with both pride and awareness of what is on their plate. Cooking together is a real bonding experience.

6. Batch Cooking

Cooking up a big batch of food and freezing it in smaller packages for use over the next couple of weeks means your family can get healthy food for less effort. Homemade chicken stock for soups, big hearty vegetable stews, pasta sauces, homemade burgers all freeze well.

7. Visit a Local Farm

Taking your kids to see a working farm can be a very rewarding experience. As many children have little connection with the origins of their food, taking them directly to the source enables them to understand the hard work that goes into the production of their food. This encourages them, not only to understand the quality of good food, but also makes them aware of why preventing food waste is so important. Plus, petting farm animals is an activity we never grow out of!

The Food Assembly brings together people to buy fresh food directly from local farmers and foodmakers.

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Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.

 


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Shireen Jayyusi
Shireen is The Food Assembly's UK Country Manager; she's a mother of energetic boys and is passionate about reconnecting people (especially children) to the provenance of their food, and contributing positively to the growing movement to create a healthier and sustainable food system. She loves good food, great books, the sea, walking and kickboxing.

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