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Fun In The Kitchen {Toddler Style!}


Kids Eat Right {KER} Month continues here on the Lemond Nutrition blog! I always love KER in August, as well as National Nutrition Month in March, due to the numerous recipes, meal planning ideas, feeding tips, etc. that are shared from RDNs, doctors, and even parents from all around the US. A popular nutritional focus around this time of year is regarding lunchbox makeovers for school-aged children and teens and fueling them appropriately while at school and between activities. The ideas are often helpful for parents who take their lunch to work or even for kids who are at home! Since we are all in different stages, I thought I would gear my take on KER towards our littles who are still at home throughout the day, whether that be full-time or part-time. Over the past couple of weeks, I began thinking about my son, Denton (2 years old), and what I hope he understands about food, complete nutrition, and his body now and as he grows older. What are things I can be doing now to encourage a healthy view on the things mentioned above?

As a dietitian-mom, I sometimes feel hypersensitive and want to control the foods around us that he consumes (or is offered), and at the same time, I sometimes tend to be laxer in the foods that he consumes because I want food to be enjoyed without any stigmas or the association of food with need for control and good vs. bad. I want him, yes, even at the age of 2, to start recognizing what makes up balanced meals, what is appropriate at breakfast or at a snack and what “sometimes” vs. “all the time” foods are. Confidence is key when talking about nutrition for all ages, but what if we instill that confidence as early as possible? There is so much information to sort through and for that reason I am going to take steps now to help him process through these things later.

Before I share my tips and ideas for bringing food awareness into your home with a toddler – which let’s be honest, is easier said than done, I want to share a real life moment with my 2-year-old. Just because I am a dietitian doesn’t mean we are exempt from the typical toddler wants (read: demands). Unfortunately, he doesn’t beg for vegetables all day long!

… Last week as Denton woke up, I asked what he would like for breakfast. He said, “Hmmm, cake!” I laughed and explained that was not an option. Full of enthusiasm, “Oh okay, I know! Ice cream!” Again, as I explained that these items were not an option and not even something we had available, he says, “Oh, we better go to the store…”

Aaanddd we have a LONG way to go. It’s a process people.J

Back to my original purpose in this post, here are a few activities and ideas that I am working to implement in my home. I am not doing this in hopes that my kids are dietitians or chefs. I am doing this to promote food awareness, show them around the kitchen and to foster a healthy relationship with food!


Tips for Toddler Nutrition Awareness:

Pairing Food and Fun

As I am sure every parent or caregiver can testify to, meals may not always go as “smooth” as planned. Don’t make meal time the only time foods and their nutritional benefits are discussed since stresses may be high or time limited. Throughout the day, talk with your little one about the different properties of food and incorporate these into play time. We have a play kitchen with different food models. Help your son or daughter identify the properties of those foods which may make them more intriguing the next time that food appears on the plate. What do we put on a burger? What is a good idea for a pretend snack? Other examples: avocados are creamy, tomatoes are juicy, carrots are crunchy, watermelon is sweet, etc. Please note- having a play kitchen or food models is not required. Discussing foods and their properties, colors and textures can be done with real foods from the fridge or pantry, in the grocery store or even at a restaurant. Engage them early in the conversation of food!


Kitchen Tasks

What are age appropriate tasks for a four-year-old, or even a two-year-old? I have to be honest- having a two-year-old “help” in the kitchen is a tall order. But, nevertheless, I know it is valuable for my son or any toddler (or kid) to perform age appropriate tasks that will help build their confidence or familiarity in the kitchen.  Set them up next to you and show them how it’s done!

While I wouldn’t give my 2-year-old a knife to chop veggies, there are several things that he can do:

  • Wash and dry hands appropriately for food prep
  • Help press buttons on microwave and stove for cooking / preheating
    • Of course he is shown which ones to push
    • Discuss what the red lights mean on the stove top for added safety and understanding
  • Mash potatoes
  • Add and mix in ingredients in a large bowl
  • Stir mixtures / sauces with assistance
    • We count out loud how many eggs we need, I crack them to put in a bowl and whisk. Since my son wants to help, I allow him to stir the mixture gently prior to placing in the skillet.
  • Sprinkle pre-grated cheese onto foods or into recipes
  • Place waffles or bread into the toaster
  • Counting out eating utensils for the family

Tasks can increase in difficulty based on each child and comfort in the kitchen.


Building Their Plate… Yes and No

Often times as parents we prepare the foods, plate the meal or pack the lunch behind the scenes. This takes some of the wonder or engagement out of the eating process for kids. And- it can add more work on us. If kids are involved in the cooking process or even the plating of their foods at a meal, they often show more willingness to try a food or increased acceptance in general. Consider plating foods family style, allowing toddlers or older kids to use the spoon or spatula to put selected items on their plate. Rather than having to have a serving of everything offered (which may be overwhelming for our selective eaters), encourage them to select 3 of the items, eating them in any order they desire! As adults we have the ability to accept or reject a food and to only eat as much as we want. Giving our kids this flexibility and responsibility to choose from the options available can ease meal tensions as well as foster a healthy relationship with foods --learning to listen to their bodies.

What are some of your favorite ways to get your toddlers or children involved in the kitchen? What are some of the challenges? As I said before, we are all in different stages! Pick what works best for your family and build from there. The start of a new school year inspires changes regardless if your child is in school yet or not. Make this year full of healthy changes while building confidence in your kid’s understanding of food and nutrition!




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