Nutrition is an elusive topic because there’s so much misinformation about what we should be eating. Advertisements for food trick consumers into believing propaganda and mainstream media messages about what’s healthy and what’s not. Just watch kids’ shows and you’ll be bombarded with tons of food marketing to kids (who don’t see these as commercials- they think it’s part of the show!).
There are some very simple and straightforward ways that you can get children, even infants, involved with their health- one of the biggest components of which, is what they eat. When preparing pick-up food for an older infant (6-12 months) and you are serving them soft fruits and veggies, it’s a good idea to cut up the food in front of them, say the name of the food, and then serve it on their high chair. If they seem hesitant to try some, grab a piece excitedly and eat it yourself, being sure you make exaggerated happy faces and remarks to encourage your child to follow suit.
For toddlers that are walking (or even if you decide to keep them contained in the cart still), you can ask them to help you pick out a certain number of (fruit or veggie). “Can you help me pick out 3 avocados?” or “Let’s go get 2 tomatoes.” or “Can you please go grab a bunch of bananas for me?” If you’d like to take this even further, teach them how to pick a good one- say, “See how red this tomato is versus that yellow one? That means it’s more ripe and ready to eat.” or “We gently squeeze the avocado on its top and bottom to see if it’s a little soft, which means it’s ripe and ready to eat.” or “When bananas are green, they’re not ready yet. We want to eat bananas today so we want yellow ones or ones that are getting brown spots.” Education about food, colors, names of the food, and how to tell when it’s ripe. Kids love hearing “what’s inside your brain” AKA “what you know about the world but they don’t”.
A toddler can help with mealtime such as: putting napkins and silverware at each setting, washing fruits and veggies, putting unbreakable plates and cups on the table (or just theirs), putting dessert yogurt or fruit on the table, and other similar, non-dangerous tasks. Toddlers can even learn to scrape their plate and put it on the kitchen counter.
School-age children can do even more than this. They can: set the table with breakable cups and plates, do a load of dishes, prep/cut some fruits and veggies (with a butter knife), put a pitcher of water on the table, help bus the serving dishes afterwards, help do some of the meal prep (if you’d like).