As families currently self isolate together in light of the current climate, we are consequently spending a lot more time together in close confines. Some of you reading this may already be a good week into working from home and are seriously wondering how you are going to cope with keeping the kids entertained, educated with home schooling and well fed. All in the midst of not strangling your husband/wife/partner/parents/kids who are just trying to live out their own lives under the same suffocating roof. I’m hoping that these engaging & fun nutrition tips for kids at home will help ease some of the very heavy load.
Now I am by no means playing down the seriousness of what is happening with the Corona virus, but we do need to think about how we are going to get through this time with our sanity in check as a society. I believe a direct outcome of the home isolation will not only be the lack of physical connection with others outside our immediate dwellings, but also the knock on to our mental health. As our lives are flipped on their heads and normal daily structures are lost, we need to find new ways to connect with each other and engage.
Kids will play a crucial role in many homes in relation to this. Kids can becoming the undoing of many households sanity even on a normal week. With so much energy to burn (and a lack of space to potential burn it) as the weeks progress, we need to start looking outside the box for ideas to engage with them. Perhaps then, dare I say, this can be a time to take advantage of being at home and to engage children in food and nutrition. Since many of us are no longer rushing in the door at 6:30pm or later with only 30 minutes to get dinner on the table, perhaps we could use the home time to encourage kids interests in food and get them involved in healthy activities.
Therefore, here are 8 ways to engage your kids in healthy, nutritional activities at home:
create a edible garden together
Don’t have a backyard? Dust off those old plant pots and order online some potting mix. Getting kids in the garden and/or planting food from seeds is a truly amazing way to engage them in whole food, literally from the day dot. When they can personally plant the seeds and see them grow into a something alive they not only understand that food doesn’t just come from the supermarket, but also appreciate what it takes for a plant to grow. You could even take the seeds direct from the foods they eat – like tomato seeds and get them planting these. Or, put herb cuttings in water for their roots to sprout.
Let them be in charge of daily watering and even saying ‘good morning’ to the seedlings! Teach them to connect with their growing food to create connection and respect. I have forever etched in my mind my mum creating indents in the soil mounds in our garden for me and my sister to then walk along and carefully drop seeds into, then cover them over with soil. I can still remember the excitement of watering them and wondering how long it would take them to grow. Even as an adult now seeing seedlings pop through is exciting. Times this by x100 for kids!
get kids baking
I haven’t met a kid yet that doesn’t love getting in the kitchen and being involved with baking. It’s messy, it generally tastes good when it’s a batter, there is spoon licking and did I mention its messy? If they are lucky there is also melted chocolate. Teaching children how to bake educates them on the foundation of where so many of our staple foods come from. It teaches them about how simple, wholefood ingredients can come together to make stuff they often equate with coming out of a package or freezer box. It is also a skill that they can carry into later life. Believe me, as a Nutrtionist I have met many adults who have no idea about baking. Knowing how to bake is a valuable skill. It saves you money, it’s better for your health in most circumstances and it will impress their future partners when dating. 😉
get kids involved in dinner
Kids can be great help! Yes they might cut things a bit wonky (if they are at the stage of being allowed to use knife), ask a lot of questions, spill things and maybe burn something but generally they can be awesome little apprentices. Involving children in cooking will once again give them life long skills that they will have forever. It will also often increase their interest in the finished product and is a great way of converting a fussy eater over to trying something new – when they have been involved in making it they seem to be more interested due to a sense of ownership. Yes, dinner might take longer to put together but we have a bit more time now right?
engage kids in decorating food
Most children love to get arty. Making food fun and colourful is a wonderful way to spike their interest in new foods and ways of eating. My Sweet Potato Toast is a great example of this. If you are worried about them using the sandwich press of course then you can get that started for them. Then, lay the Sweet Potato Toast out with a variety of toppings and let them decorate. Perhaps create a ‘sweet’ and ‘savoury’ bench stations (I’m sure they will still mix it up). Make sure they are doing this when they are hungry for a meal to increase the liklihood of eating it too, other than to just see it as art to throw aside. If they do, it’s your win. Sweet Potato Toast is delicious.
make pantry jars
Collect any jars, tins and bottles laying around and order some blackboard paint online and some chalk if you don’t have any. Let your kids clean the jars etc up and then paint them with the blackboard paint. Once they are dry they can write and draw labels on them for different grains, flours, pulses etc learning what ingredients are as they go. You can encourage them to think of cool names for ingredients (something more pc than our ‘spud cocaine’ for our potato starch). Let their imaginations go wild. They love that shit.
cook outside more
If you have a bbq engage kids in cooking on it. Yes they will need supervision depending on their age, but again it’s such a great way to involve them. When we were in Tuscany at our friends home stay the kids loved cooking the sausages on the grill over the open fire. They then all got involved with roasting chestnuts and then cracking them all open to eat. I know that sounds painfully idyllic, but you get my gist.
make edible toys
Making play dough and slime is some of the first ways we can get kids excited about the concept of ingredients coming together to make something. Young kids go nuts for it and they love being involved in the process of making it as much as playing with it. Food can also be an edible toy too. Hold egg and spoon races and apple bob competitions. Make a treasure hunt out of the ingredients list – get your older ones to set up the treasure hunt for the younger ones and then when they find everything you can make the recipe together. Of course if you like the idea of this yourself (like Hubbard) you could make the treasure hunt up and have them busy all day!
make healthy ice-cream with kids!
Who doesn’t love ice-cream. If you are lucky enough to have an ice-cream maker then it’s time to dust that baby off and go to town. Otherwise, there are plenty of whole-food ice-cream recipes around that are just made with blended frozen banana as a base. Making ice-cream from scratch, particularly in different ways teaches kids about how to create ‘sweets’ from whole-food ingredients instead of it just coming from the frozen tub in the supermarket.
I hope some of the above gives you some inspiration in the context of engaging, fun nutritional activities with your kids while they are at home under your feet 24/7. I don’t for one minute expect all of the above to work like a dream, I know kids will be kids and sometimes will just be little a-holes who want their i-pad. However, if we can take some of these concepts and educate our kids, create enthusiasm around wholefood and cooking, then I for one see that as a win for their health in the years to come.
Jessica Cox is a qualified practicing Nutritionist with a Bachelor Health Science (Nutrition) and over 15 years of clinical experience. She is the founder and director JCN Clinic, published author and established recipe developer. Jessica is well respected within health and wellness space for her no fad approach and use of evidence-based nutrition.