Fostering a Love for Healthy Food
(Originally Published in HFP Newsletter — November 2011
By Rachel Petke
Parenting has definitely changed the way I think about eating.
Beginning with pregnancy and the enormity of having sole responsibility for nourishing a tiny being the struggle of trying to nurse a newborn who was much more interested in sleeping than eating the excitement of introducing solids at 8 months only to be met with refusal to eat anything but avocado for the next 3 months the anguish over whether or not refined sugar should go into the first birthday cake.
And my journey continues, with a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, who have very different tastes and eating habits, and are still learning to appreciate the importance of healthy eating. I regularly tell them that my job is to teach them how to be healthy and strong, that their bodies need lots of different kinds of foods to grow, and that their job is to learn to try new things.
Research shows that it takes children time and repeated neutral exposure to learn to like a new food. Neutral exposure is defined as matter-of-factly including a new food in family meals and enjoying it yourselves without applying outside pressure of any kind. It is found that children may have to see, watch others eat, touch or taste a food 15 or 20 (or even more) times before learning to enjoy it. Even then, a child may not eat a food they have learned to like every time it is offered.
One could easily argue that exposure doesn’t just include presenting food to your child to eat. It includes teaching your child how different foods are grown, harvested, prepared, etc. Gardening with kids is a classic example. Including kids in food shopping and other food prep for cooking and baking are natural ways to provide exposure as well.
The HFP curriculum presents so many great opportunities for kids to understand more about the food they eat. Farm field trips are a thrill, and in a recent field trip to New Cascadia Traditional Bakery, our kids had a chance to get a behind the scenes look at food production. Many were impressed by the huge equipment, loved the walk-in refrigerator, and all were thrilled with a sweet treat at the end.
In the classroom, kids are regularly involved in snack preparation, from cutting up fruits and veggies, mixing ingredients for banana bread, to whirring garbanzo beans around in a food processor for hummus. Cutting up produce is particularly satisfying — kids feel so proud of themselves and are much more likely to eat what they have helped create. It is also an opportunity to talk about how amazing it is that a seed planted in the ground grew into something wonderful (that likely has the same kinds of seed in the middle of it), that a stem which we can be so quick to discard has such an important job of holding this thing onto the plant from which it grows, that the skin of something can look and taste so different than the flesh and has it’s own special job.
I could go on, but the kids are hovering — I think it’s time to eat.