Raise your hand if the topics of food and meal times in your household stress you out. If you didn’t already know, you are not alone! Between the ages of two and five it is common for children to display a fear of new foods, causing them to be cautious about trying things that are unfamiliar. While this might make us think they are being difficult or picky, it’s actually often related to the fact that children are naturally “neophobic,” which means they have an innate fear of trying anything new or foreign, and this includes food.
The preschool years are also a time in a child’s development when they are beginning to be aware of social messages. When it comes to food, this can include what they see on TV as well as their observations of what their friends and family members are eating and saying about food. I once had a child in my preschool class who refused to drink milk when she learned milk came from cows. Her limited experience with cows led her to conclude that cows are dirty and so their milk must be dirty too. Thank goodness for almond milk and other milk alternatives! Getting through this stage takes time and patience, but this too shall pass!
The math and science of food prep:
Cooking, as well as all of the steps leading up to the actual cooking, is rich with possibilities for hands-on math and science fun! As an added bonus, involving children in gardening, shopping, menu planning, and cooking are good ways to give them “ownership” of a food and makes them more likely to try it.
Here are some quick and easy things to try: Do a taste test or a crunch test! Dip carrots into hummus, sun butter, or salad dressing, or try a crunch test with three different kinds of vegetables to see which vegetable crunches the loudest! Engage all of their senses by playing a guessing game! Give your children several different foods to try while blindfolded; then encourage them to use words to describe what they taste, such as salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth, warm, cold, etc.
Ready for a slightly more involved project? An excellent resource for cooking with young children that was tested by small groups of children in preschool classrooms is a book titled Pretend Soup. Each of the recipes appears two times in the book, first in standard recipe format (for the adult) and a second time in full-color pictures – with easy words guiding the child through each of the steps. The illustrations work to build an understanding of the sequencing behind cooking (an important math concept), and work to build early literacy skills as the children follow the prompts.
The most important things to remember are that you are your children’s first teacher (they watch and model everything you do) and to have fun, take risks, and try new things! Let us know if you have a favorite recipe you prepare with your child. You can share your experiences and/or recipes in the comments or on our Facebook page. Be sure to use the hashtag #PlayIQwithDCM so I can respond to your comments and questions!