Have you ever wondered what it would be like to send our children back in time? What would they do if they were expected to wash their own clothes, go outside to the “out-house” toilet, grow and pick food to eat and help make dinner?

What’s changed in our food landscape?

The world we live in now is full of convenience and technology that makes things “easier”. As a result, we can (supposedly) do things faster, better and more efficiently. Hmmm… I wonder about that a lot. Are our lives just more complicated and cluttered? The busier life gets, the more complicated our support systems need to be to keep up with the demands and the cycle continues.

Food and eating has suffered greatly in the past 50-100 years with technological advances. Our food has become more and more processed, with more additives and preservatives needed, so it can be “ready to eat” whenever we need it. It is packaged and manipulated to such a degree that much of what we see in supermarkets today isn’t actually what our grandparents and great-grandparents would recognise as food.

Along with all this added convenience matched with our busy lives, our kids no longer get to learn the basic skills they need to feed themselves well. Bottled meal sauces and ready-to-eat dinners may have put the convenience in, but they’ve taken the skill out of feeding our families. We don’t prepare food the way our parents or grandparents did, and as a result we aren’t passing these skills onto our kids. Even a basic skill like letting our kids butter their own toast might get skipped over because it’s quicker for us to do it for them before we race out the door in the morning.

What’s the same?

Our kids are still the same. They still LOVE to learn. They still delight in mastering new skills and showing us what they can do. Our kids are amazing!

As we support them to understand their increasingly complicated world, we can make them even more resilient by teaching them one of the most basic skills of all–how to nourish themselves. This is true food literacy.

Basic food skills for kids–how to teach kids to be food “literate”

There are SO many things you can do to support children’s food skills. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the dozens of Food Adventures and Let’s Get Cooking workshops with toddlers to primary school aged kids, it’s this:

Kids LOVE to learn about food!

They LOVE to do things for themselves. All we need to do is support them to do it. The kids in my workshops are constantly putting a smile on my face with their enthusiasm and creativity.

Here’s what you can do to grow food literate kids:

Under 3 years

  • Pick out fruit & vegetables and other foods at the supermarket
  • Wash fruit & vegetables
  • Tear lettuce leaves or herbs
  • Peel a banana
  • Use hands or small tongs to self-serve food at the table
  • Stirring ingredients
  • Mashing with a fork or potato masher
  • Sprinkling: flour, cake decorations, cheese
  • To keep them occupied: give them plastic containers and utensils to “wash” in the sink

3-5 year olds

  • Weigh and measure ingredients – with assistance
  • Spread – butter on bread or toast, pasta sauce onto pizza base
  • Cut soft foods using a kid-safe knife – graduate to harder foods as skill increases
  • Be given 1 job to help set the table e.g. put placemats out or take cups the table
  • Learn to take dirty dishes and utensils to the kitchen – one at a time
  • Help wash dishes or stack the dishwasher
  • Crack an egg – with assistance till skill increases
  • Mix ingredients in a bowl

5-8 year olds

  • Cut using a small knife
  • Cut herbs with scissors
  • Grate – with assistance to make sure fingers don’t get grated!
  • Measure – with more independence given to use maths to do this correctly
  • Grease and line a cake tin or tray
  • Peel oranges or cooled hard-boiled eggs
  • Set the table – foster a love of eating together as a family
  • Clear the table after dinner
  • Pack their school lunchbox – with guidance to ensure variety

8-11 year olds

  • Plan a family meal
  • Follow a simple recipe
  • Find ingredients in the cupboards and fridge
  • Use a peeler
  • Whisk – using a balloon whisk or handheld mixer
  • Use heat on a stove, oven and microwave – with assistance at first to ensure safety
  • Make a salad
  • Open cans of food

Added benefits of teaching food skills from a young age

Supporting early food skills promotes independence, fine motor skills and helping out as part of the family team. These are skills that children can take with them for LIFE.
 And I don’t know about you, but I look forward to the day when the responsibility for cooking dinner isn’t always on me!

Eat happy!

Deb Blakley
Accredited Practising Dietitian & Director

image of unhappy kid faceplanting on the sandwich on his plate

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