Young children are naturally picky eaters. But children can overcome their picky eating habits with the help of teachers and caregivers when they allow them to explore and taste new foods. Keeping in mind the rise in childhood overweight or bad eating issues, it is important to establish healthy eating habits by encouraging them to try new foods. This is a critical time to introduce and encourage healthy eating in young children because early exposure and liking of food helps them establish good eating habits that is carried into adulthood too.
Mostly, the diets of preschool children are not so good or need improvement. They generally follow the same diet patterns which are being followed by the adults, i.e. high fat, sugar and sodium contents but low in fiber. Children, mostly establish good dietary habits and food preferences during first six years of their life. So it becomes essential to introduce a variety of healthy foods to young children. Sometimes, preschool children go through “Neophobia” (fear of new things), which is a normal developmental phase. Here in this case, new foods become the cause. We, usually refer this stage as “Picky Eating”. But if we offer a variety of foods to preschool children constantly, it helps them to overcome the tendency to reject new foods and eventually may lead to establish healthy eating habits.
Parents and caregivers majorly influence children’s eating beahviours in several ways, as the availability and accessibility of foods is controlled by them. Also, they determine how and when the meals should be served. They also help in Establishing good manners, eating practices and food etiquettes in young children. So it becomes vital to educate the preschool teachers about nutrition and encouragement to try healthy and new foods.
Making new foods fun
As a fact, about 8 to 12 experiences are required for a child o accept a new food after trying it. So a project can be designed in classroom snack time to introduce new food and making it a fun activity so that along with eating children should also enjoy it. For example- “Making New Foods Fun for Children”, a campaign which can be aimed at encouraging preschoolers to try new foods and acquire healthy food habits.
In this program, children can participate in a 20 min (or more) food activity once (or twice) a week. Relevant story books can be read that support the theme. Parents’ handouts and activities can be sent home to encourage them to participate in the same project by offering same foods to children at home too.
Another project named “Food Friends” can also be introduced for children in interesting and playful ways. For example- some funny names can be given to foods, like, tina tomato, olie orange, milly milk, Rudy radish, corie carrot etc..
Children can enjoy eating these foods while playing name games. A classroom kit can be prepared to support this project which could include puppets, memory games, cards, puzzles, flash cards or drawings etc. teachers again would read the theme based story books throughout the project. Few simple steps should be followed while doing these activities-
• Make food fun
• New foods should be offered
• Become a role model by eating new food with children
• Children should be allowed to choose new food
• Help children to learn about new foods
• Offer one new food at a time
• Never force the child to eat a new food
Before starting any project, a teacher should be fully prepared or trained as how to handle the children according to their developmental stages, their feeding habits, psychological habits, food allergies etc. so that it is helpful to establish positive environments in which children can experience new foods and form good food habits too.