Importance of Teaching Children about Nutrition from a Young Age
Expectations of parents are higher than ever in terms of providing nutritious meals for their children that exceed the recommended values depicted in colorful charts of food groups, pyramids, and plates. This pressure can actually interfere with what a child is truly learning about the nutritious value of the food they eat. Of course, the most important reason to teach children about nutrition from a young age is to encourage them to eat healthy foods and stay away from unhealthy options. People need balanced and proper nutrition at every age, but children especially require the right nutrients to grow healthy and strong. In addition, when children truly learn about nutrition, this sets a foundation for future eating habits and knowledge that they can apply for themselves as they grow up.
Unfortunately, there are some factors that work against parents when it comes to teaching their children about nutrition and putting that learning into practice. With toddlerhood comes a stubborn streak that often turns an open-minded eater into one that is unswervingly fussy. This stage of picky eating can last for years, creating an adversarial atmosphere when it comes to food. Growing up “big and strong” loses its incentive during mealtime battles over nutritious choices, which can end up a source of enormous stress for the entire family and create a difficult relationship with food for the child in which any learning about nutrition is lost.
Thankfully, there are other ways to teach your child about nutrition at an early age that aren’t just focused on eating healthy foods for a healthy body, which may be a harder connection for kids to make than parents realize. Here are some additional and hopefully intriguing benefits that you can introduce to your child to help them learn about nutrition and why it’s important for their overall well-being.
Benefits of Fun Nutrition Learning
To a child, learning about the vitamin and mineral content of different foods or portion sizes, etc., is far too abstract and dull. A better approach for young children is to make learning about nutrition fun. Essentially, this means teaching them about foods without simply labeling them “good” or “bad.” Instead, parents can work with categories to help their children make associations with healthy and non-healthy food options. For example, parents and their children can create a “rainbow” chart and try to check off each color daily to represent eating a balance of fruit and vegetables:
- Red apple
- Orange carrot
- Yellow banana
- Green celery
- Blue blueberries
- Purple eggplant
There are several categorical approaches to make learning about nutrition fun. Another idea is to create a “meal train” each day to show how nutritious food provides energy. Breakfast can be the engine, lunch can be the middle car, and dinner the caboose—with “snack” cars in between. The overall benefit is that young children will have visual representations to help them associate positive feelings with healthy foods and learning about nutrition.
Dental Health Benefits
Though the surface of our teeth, called enamel, is the hardest substance in our body, it is vulnerable to sugars in the food we eat. These sugars break down into acid and bacteria that build up in the form of plaque and erode tooth enamel. Once the enamel layer is penetrated, a cavity is formed, and the tooth cannot be restored to health without professional dental treatment. Children’s primary and permanent teeth are at higher risk of developing cavities to begin with than other age groups.
Therefore, it’s essential to teach children about nutrition from a young age to protect their dental health. This can be an excellent incentive for children to learn about how their nutrition directly affects their teeth—a part of their body that they can see and touch, as opposed to an abstract “big and strong” future body that they can’t envision. As children learn to eat a nutritious diet that is low in sugar, their chances of maintaining strong, healthy teeth improve drastically. This is beneficial not only for their overall oral health, but it also reduces the number of necessary dental procedures and appointments. Many children suffer anxiety about visiting the dentist, but with strong oral health habits and a nutritious diet, their annual visits will be far less stressful and invasive.
Benefits of Nutritious Connections
Though joy may not be a common feeling when eating with or feeding a young child, it’s ultimately important that children understand the role food can play in connecting members of a family and their wider culture. Kids may be more open to learning about a variety of foods and their nutritional value if they can develop a meaningful connection to it. For example, parents can tell a story about a new food that they tried as a child or perhaps mention their favorite childhood meal as a way of sharing that experience with their own child and introducing something new.
In addition, it might be fun to look at old family photos and try to guess what healthy foods a great-grandmother may have enjoyed or foods that are associated with past holiday traditions. Your child can help you plan a celebratory meal to honor those distant relatives or holidays. Connecting nutrition with family, culture, and even celebration is likely to have a lasting impact on your child’s learning.
At Cognisprings, we support parents and their children with thoughtfully designed and unique games, books, and puzzles to enhance learning and create memories. In fact, our Food Puzzle is an excellent way to introduce the importance of nutrition for children of a young age and provide opportunities for fun and togetherness as well!