Monday, September 8, 2014

I Can Eat It! Montessori Inspired Tips for Healthy Eating With Kids

I am not the expert on healthy eating.  My food pyramid contains it's own category for "Dr. Pepper" and "Double Stuffed Oreos", but I do make a good effort and I would wager we eat better than a good portion of the American population, but there's always room for improvement.  My own short comings in the nutrition department were a concern when my son got closer to the table food age, but I'm glad to say that so far has been so good.



I've used my Montessori inspiration at home to combat my own lack luster nutritional habits.  Here's how.

1. Choices and Accessibility


One of the biggest hurdles I crossed was realizing that, simply, if it wasn't in the house I couldn't feed it to my child.  This isn't to say that we don't have some ice cream in the freezer or cookies and goldfish crackers in the pantry.  However, I realized all those things that I really didn't want H. consuming - sugary "juices", red #whatever "fruit" snacks, sugary cereals, etc. - were easy to deny if I just didn't bring it home.

That, however, is more common sense than Montessori-esque inspiration.  Where the real inspiration comes into play is in foods accessibility.  Like I said, there are things that are not accessible in our home simply because they are not there and then there are the rest.

The treats live out of reach, they are available, but not accessible.  Other food is more regularly accessible - fruits, veggies and dip, etc.

I feel like this encourages direction in their eating habits, without being over bearing.  He's the one making the decision, gauging his hunger - but I'm gently directing the decision making process.  I'm providing the pieces, but he's figuring it out on his own.

You'll often hearing this exchange in my house:

"I want a cookie."
"It's not cookie time.  You can have an apple or carrots."
"But I want a cookie."
"That's not a choice - apple, carrots or nothing."

... and surprise, surprise the kiddo either chooses the fruit or veg presented or decides he's not hungry enough.

2.  Serving


Starting before H. turned three we started guiding him to being more helpful in the meal process.  This helped greatly during the "I don't want to eat dinner!" proclamations - getting him to help set the table and doing little parts of the process can change his attitude completely.

In his late toddler/early preschool days his role in the serving of food includes putting down place-mats, silverware and plates.

But what does this have to do with good nutrition?

I believe that encouraging the family to sit at the table, with the proper dressings, actually encourages us to eat better.  Are you going to go through that process to scarf down a bag of McD's?  Probably not, but you will for something made with a little more care and thought - and with that often comes nutrition.

3.  Food Prep


We're just turning the corner in having an active participants in the making of food in our kitchen.  Fine/Gross motor skills are just catching up in this house, as well as interest.

We're currently exploring the handy little tool I found at our local thrift store, seen in the picture above, (after waiting for a year for one to appear!) and will soon start to move into washing vegetables and pealing things like carrots and potatoes in the near future.

Children naturally love to help around this age, and letting them have a part in their meal prep generally encourages them to be more exploratory in their eating.

A few things a young child can do to help and discover food preparation include, but aren't limited too:

  • cutting/chopping fruits, veggies, and cheese with appropriate tools
  • washing fruits and veggies
  • helping to measure and pour when baking
  • juicing oranges
  • peel hard boiled eggs and cut them with an Egg Slicer
  • spreading butter and other spreadables on toast
  • peeling carrots, potatoes and similar Vegetable Peeler
  • grating food
  • using a Cherry Pitter , melon ball-er or Strawberry Huller  

Just look at the foods those activities encourage - homemade goodies, a wide range of fruits and vegetables, eggs, good cheese, etc.

4.  Clean Up


What could clean up have to do with nutrition?  You're not eating while you do it, is what you're thinking right?

Making sure that clean up is part of the process in encourages pride in the task for the child.  It also teaches them that food, real food, good food, takes time and effort. And practically for the parent it encourages us to continue with the work.  Are you going to encourage another round of bread making or cherry pitting if you're stuck doing all the dirty work at the end?  Not as likely.

Encourage your children from a young age to be responsible for clearing dishes and wiping down a table.  The results might not be perfect at first, but it helps everyone feel like it's a team effort.



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