One of my core beliefs is that we need to integrate food education into our programs. If we are serving snacks and meals then we have a captive audience to talk about food! Now there are many things that I could say about my beliefs surround food education but today’s focus is some simple ways that we can communicate to families how we approach meal time. The way you approach mealtimes will likely change and I encourage you to keep thinking about your approach. I know my teaching practices shifted radically after I attended a week-long VT FEED training at my children’s school in 2011. There is no one-size-fits-all and therefore your approach might vary from mine, but this is how I frame meal time in my program. If you utilize the food program or work in a center be sure that your views match the guidelines in place. This blog post is written with the audience of families in mind, and I welcome you to ‘cut and paste’ & edit it for your own newsletters or print materials that you share with the families in your programs.
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Research shows that a child needs up to 15 exposures before they will begin to like a new food, and if you are like me it’s hard to keep buying foods that I am not sure my child will eat. So here at Utopia Child Care we are working on becoming ‘adventurous eaters’, and each month we offer a wide variety of foods for your child to sample. It’s important to us that you child try new foods but at no time do we require any child to eat the foods we serve. Some of our approaches include:
- We communicate to children the concepts “I don’t like it yet” and explain that as children get older they often begin to like more foods. Most young children want to be ‘big kids’ and sometimes this frame of mind helps them embrace the adventure.
- We have a rule at meal time: “Don’t yuck my yum”. This simple phrase helps children learn to be respectful of other children’s food preferences and sets the tone that we can each like different foods.
- We ask staff to avoid giving negative comments about particular foods or food groups.
- Food is never used as a reward or as a punishment.
- We will explore the “The Two Bite Club” and will be sending home a book for you to read with your child (see link below). This book is published by the USDA and explains MyPlate, food groups, and suggests that children try two bites of a new food.
- We serve food family style which means that each child is able to serve themselves from dishes. This gives us the opportunity to explore making sure there is enough for every child, serving the amount that we think we will eat, and knowing that there is plenty for all of us. And yes, it does get messy, especially on spaghetti day, but it is an important motor skill to learn.
- We teach about manners and how to use a napkin.
- We also learn how to have an ongoing conversation with our friends at the table without talking over each other. There are no digital distractions during mealtime.
- And best of all….we get to build community while we share a delicious meal.
Additional thoughts for providers ~~
Diversity and respect – as providers and educators it is essential that we honor the choices that a family makes about food. Families may have religious, ethical, medical, environmental, or spiritual reasons for choosing to eat they way they do at their home. Whether or not we are able to provide their needs is a conversation to have PRIOR to the child starting in a program. It is through open communication that parents can decide if what the program offers meets their needs.
Clean Plate Award – it’s engrained into our brains not to waste food, but more current research suggests that we teach children to listen to their bodies when they are full.
Garden- children who have access to picking fresh veggies from a garden (especially one they help plant and care for) will eat foods they have never tried. Their excitement about harvesting and connecting in the garden opens up their food palate like no other trick I know!
Compost- teach children where our trash, recycling, and compost go after we are done with a meal. Our food scraps, if composted, can be turned back into soil and the cycle begins again. Though the broccoli is still better off in your tummy then in the compost bin! J
“Outside Food” – the food struggle is real and parents will want to bring in food from the fast food joint they pass on the way to your program or extra snacks or special treats because it’s Tuesday. Picture the scenario from the parent’s point of view. They are running late and need to grab a cup of coffee before work, so they negotiate with their slow poke three year old that if they hurry up and get into the car they can have a treat. Been there, done that as a parent. The path of least resistance involves a munchkin from Dunkin or a breakfast sandwich from the drive through. If you do not want to allow ‘outside food’ into your program my suggestions is to have a clear written policy in your handbook that you consistently reinforce.
“Two Bite Club” is an educational storybook published through the USDA. It is now available in English and in Spanish, was introduces “MyPlate” to young children. The cartoon characters model trying foods from every food group by eating just two bites, and there is a certificate at the back of the book for kids who take on the challenge as well. This book is now available as an eBook, can be downloaded as PDF, or ordered for FREE from this link https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/two-bite-club-english-and-spanish
Don’t just take my word for it…for further reading:
“Creating the Nutritionally Purposeful Classroom” (2014) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/ycyoungchildren.69.5.8.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
“Autonomy at mealtime: Building healthy food preference and eating behaviors in young children” from the Early Childhood Education Journal (1996) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02430547
Check out the amazing resources published by VT FEED – Vermont Food Education Every Day and its parent organizations Shelburne Farms and NOFA-VT https://vtfeed.org/feed-resource-library