BY ASPEN FORGAN FOR NOURISHED BEGINNINGS
Did you know that play is a vital part of children’s nutrition?
Probably not. In fact, most of us have been conditioned to believe we should not be playing with our food. But here’s the thing, children make sense of their world through play. Let’s stop and think about a young girl who’s just welcomed a new sibling into her world. She processes the huge changes in her life by role-playing mums and babies. Play is the vehicle that enables children to make sense of societal “rules” and norms.
As a society we now understand that play is a vital component in children’s learning and development. Play and investigation enables children to make meaning of the world around them and helps children to understand how society works. Play provides children with opportunities to engage in higher order thinking skills such as questioning, experimentation and problem solving. But if play is such an important part of our children’s development, why is it that society tells us it’s not o.k. to play with food?
Here’s the interesting thing – research shows that children who play with their food are more willing to try new foods and eat a more varied diet. So how exactly does play help with children’s nutrition?
- Exposure – Research shows us that when children are exposed to different foods repeatedly, they are more likely to try and ‘like’ these foods.
- Sensory play – Our senses play such a big role in the eating process. Before we’ve even put any food in our mouth, we’ve looked at the food, examined it’s shape and colour, felt it’s texture and smells different scents. All of these instinctive behaviours that we do without even realising prepares our body to eat by promoting the production of salivary glands and preparing the digestive system to start working. So by engaging in sensory play using food, children are effectively half way to ‘eating’ these foods. They’re interacting with foods using a variety of senses, which will make the whole process a lot easier when it comes time to doing this at the dinner table (especially for our fussy eaters out there!).
- Pressure- By allowing children to interact with food in a fun and engaging way, the pressure to “eat” is removed, and children are much more likely to touch and explore different foods.
- Discussions- When children are engaged in play with food, we are given the opportunity to have discussions about different types of food, where food comes from, how different foods benefit different parts of our bodies and how foods make us feel. This is all an important aspect of helping children develop a life-long, positive relationship with food.
So what are some ways you can use food to promote play?
- Scented play dough using herbs, spices or essence (for example, lemon or strawberry essence)
- Dried sensory mixes, such as lentils, chickpeas, rice or pasta
- Science experiments (google lemon volcanoes)
- Cooking activities
- Creating a mud kitchen
At Nourished beginnings we believe in a holistic approach to nutrition. One that encompasses the child, families, the early learning Centre and broader community. One way that we do this is by encouraging the centres we work with to bring nutrition into their classrooms using some of the ideas listed above. You can find out more about how we do this here https://www.nourishedbeginnings.org/about
Aspen is the CEO of Nourished Beginnings, an Early childhood educator, nutritionist, and mother of two beautiful children. She has worked in the early childhood and education industry for ten years in a range of capacities including assistant, group leader, assistant director, centre director and primary school teacher. After her father passed away from cancer in his fifties, she began reading about the link between nutrition and certain lifestyle diseases, including cancer. Eager to ensure her own young family remained healthy, Aspen began modifying her families diet to include more fruit and vegetables, and less processed foods filled with unhealthy fats, sugars and preservatives. Aspen soon became very passionate about childhood nutrition and decided to complete post graduate studies in Nutrition, in order to combine my early childhood experience and newfound passion of nutrition to work with early learning centres, parents and children.
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