In January 2012, my daughter Eliana began eating solid foods. I was really excited to make as much of her food as possible and to introduce her to all sorts of flavors and textures in both “traditional” purées (applesauce) and “non-traditional” purées (carrot onion farro purée). I wanted to create an eater with a wide and varied palate, aka a teeny tiny foodie. Based on the advice of her pediatrician, I added little bits of spices, herbs and oils, so that her food was tasty. I let her gnaw on slices of watermelon, banana, bread and apples, too. It was really fun to see her get excited about trying different foods or to make a funny face as she tasted a new flavor or felt a new texture in her mouth. Despite the fact that I totally stressed (like ridiculously over-stressed) about the mess involved with feeding a baby solid foods, it was even funny when she spit out the exact item she had gobbled up two days before.
But a few months into these adventures in eating, I realized that feeding Eliana a bunch of different foods, flavors and textures wasn’t enough. If I wanted her to really be open to trying new foods and enjoy different flavors, I had to give her experiences around food that were separate from actually eating. I tapped into my roots as a teacher and thought about how I used to create lesson plans for my students. I helped them learn about a topic using different types of experiences, disciplines, and levels of participation that incorporated all of their senses, too. So, I began to think of ways to teach my teeny tiny student about food outside of her high chair. Below are some of the ways I’ve been providing Eliana a “foodie education” over the last two years.
We’ve been cooking together.
Eliana has been in the kitchen with me since she was very young. As a tiny baby, I wore her in the carrier while I prepared meals. I made sure to be extra careful about keeping her tiny body away from the heat. Once she could sit up in a Bumbo seat, I placed her on the counter to watch me cook or sample ingredients. (I know. Dangerous but our counter is around 3 feet wide so placed in the middle of it, I felt she was safe.) Even before she was really aware, I’ve been talking to Eliana about the food I was preparing. Even something as simple as, “I’m opening this box of cereal because I’m hungry. I’m going to pour it into this bowl and add some milk and nuts.” Once she was able to stand, I got her a raised step stool so she could stand at counter height and watch or help. She brings her pretend food or her cooking tools and “cooks” alongside me or she gets more actively involved by helping to whisk or mix the ingredients (with support from me) or push buttons on the blender.
We’ve been playing around with foodie toys and tools.
I know from my days as a preschool teacher that kids of all ages like to role-play and play “dress-up” games. So, I’ve been taking advantage of that by encouraging Eliana to play like a little chef. She has a bunch of food-related toys and kitchen tools. She even has a stash of real food boxes that I donated to “Eliana’s Kitchen” instead of placing into the recycling bin. Early on, when she was around 6 months old, Eliana simply gnawed on the toys. But as she reached 1 year and 18 months old, she began to use the pretend food to cook meals for me and my husband and to host regular tea parties for her stuffed animals. Now at 2½ years old, she’s creating her own recipes and feeding her dolls in their high chairs, too.
We’ve been learning about where food comes from.
I took a leave of absence from the NYC Department of Education to stay home with Eliana, so she comes almost everywhere with me, including shopping for our food. Even before she was 6 months old, I talked to her about what I was buying, why I was looking at labels and the names of the different fruits and vegetables I was choosing. She became more interested as a 6-month old when she could notice more details like colors and textures. I let her smell different foods, too. (I’ve continued doing this all along and over time Eliana has become more interested and more involved over time.) At just over a year old, she began to “help” me shop by touching the different foods we were going to buy and holding onto them. As a 2-year old, she’s begun to pack her own grocery bag before we go to the store as her visual list of the items we want to buy. She will take out her pretend onion and compare it to the onions at the market before putting one into our cart or bag. She also gets involved in the shopping by asking to know the name of what I’m choosing or even demanding that I buy a specific fruit or vegetable that has caught her eye. Read more about our food shopping fun by clicking here.
I’ve also been trying to teach Eliana that real food originates in soil at farms or in pots. We’ve gone apple picking at different farms, and at home we’ve been raising herbs in pots on the windowsill and even dabbled in creating our own vegetable and herb garden on our deck. Click here to read about our urban gardening adventures.
We’ve been reading books about food.
I’ve been reading to Eliana since her first months. Along with some of the more popular books for babies, I also read Eliana books about food and food concepts. When she was around 6 months old, she simply looked at the pictures and listened as I not only read the words but also pointed to and talked about the pictures. As she got closer to a year old, Eliana really began to react. She smiled and pointed to the pictures. Since around 18 months old, she has tried to talk about the pictures, name the foods she recognizes and even point to the foods she knows when we are in the store. I bought a xuxu squash once just because she recognized it from one of her books and NEEDED us to take it home and try it. More recently, at 2½ years old, she talks even more about the pictures and tries to read along with the story and ask questions about what people are eating or cooking.
We’ve Been Eating Together.
Typically, the meal our family shares together most often is breakfast. Sometimes it’s a quick breakfast to prepare like cereal or sometimes it’s a little more involved like eggs, toast and fruit. But either way, we try to sit down and talk and model proper eating habits like using a utensil or wiping your hands on a napkin rather than shaking them vigorously in an attempt to clean them off. I like this time not only as family time but eating together also gives me a chance to show Eliana that I at least taste all the different foods on my plate before deciding I don’t like them. Often, she just wants to do what my husband and I are doing. So if we are eating eggs for breakfast, she will likely try them, too. However, she is 2½ and very “willful” so sometimes mealtime is a bit, um, challenging. Read more about that by clicking here.
I hope you and your own Little Foodie have some fun in and out of the kitchen together!
Please feel free to comment below with ways you have been teaching your little one about food or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, questions or ideas.