The first years of children’s lives are a period of rapid physical, social and emotional growth, during which eating patterns also develop. The types of foods a child eats in their first few years shape their future habits towards food and eating, so here at Choklits, we like to encourage the children to try new things and experiment with different flavours and textures. We focus on fresh foods, like fruits and veggies, combined with grains, dairy and proteins to expose the children to variety of different things, giving them the energy to make it through the day at childcare and keeping their little tummies full.
Recently, Janine, our pre-toddler room leader has introduced an activity called Helen’s Helpers. Helen is our chef at Choklits, and the idea for this activity came about after Janine observed that the children always showed keen interest in the sounds and smells coming from the kitchen. They were intrigued by the loud noises and loved seeing things bubbling away on the stove as they passed the kitchen to go outside.
Chef Helen and Janine discussed putting together an activity where the children could participate in preparing their meals. The goal of this is to introduce the kids to the different processes Helen uses when cooking and invite them to participate in the preparation of their own food.
One of our favourite things about Helen’s Helpers is that the activity the children do, and therefore the skill they get to learn about depends on the meal, so it will always be changing. For their first activity, the children helped Helen with grating carrots and zucchini for the curry they were having at lunchtime.
When grating the carrots and zucchini, the children first watched Helen cut the vegetables into large pieces. Then they took turns putting the vegetables into the chute of the food processor and watching through the clear plastic as the large chunk was grated.
This was a great sensory activity, as the children were able to explore the different bright colours of the vegetables and the way the carrots and zucchini differed in texture. They also got to explore the taste and smells of the food.
Initially, the loud noise of the food processor was intimidating for some of the children, however they became more comfortable with the situation as Helen and Janine helped them to build their confidence through explaining what was happening and encouraging them to look into the food processor as it was grating.
The sensory elements were a significant focus of the activity, however it was also an excellent exercise in patience and a great opportunity to practice turn taking as well. The children were active participants at all stages of this activity; they were engaged while they were waiting their turn to load the vegetables in the food processor which was wonderful to see. It also opened some great conversations about safety and listening to instructions, which were followed very well, especially in the unfamiliar environment.
Being involved in the kitchen also provided an opportunity to observe the changes the vegetable underwent from a whole chunk to being grated, and how they looked and felt different in a large piece and in a bowl once grated. The children loved the end result – particularly because it involved tasting too! Once lunchtime rolled around, we again discussed how they had helped to make the curry they were eating which fostered a lovely sense of pride in the children.
A key difference of Helen’s Helpers is that it is not simply a token activity done for the sole purpose of the exercise itself. The children are engaging in cooking and aiding Helen with food preparation for the purpose of contributing to their lunch.
We hear plenty of our Choklits parents report that their kids want to be more involved in the kitchen at home, which is fantastic, because engaging in real life activities like cooking is what builds life skills. Learning about how food is made and where it comes from is so important, particularly as it informs a person’s future attitudes towards food.
We understand that the afternoon and dinner time can be a very busy time at home, so this activity is a great chance for the kids to explore the kitchen in a relaxed way, and learn about cooking and where the food comes from without increasing the stress on parents!
The children loved it so much that our goal is to make Helen’s Helpers an ongoing activity, hopefully around once a month, with consultation with Helen to determine which meals lend themselves well to having the kids involved. Next time, we’re going to use apples to practice slicing fruit for their snack.
We’re also very excited to tie in our veggie patch with this activity as it continues, so we can introduce the children to different seasonal produce that has be grown right here.
Another way we have been exploring different produce is through our green grocer activity, which Helen was also central to. A lovely parent brought in some shopping trolleys for the children to use, and with the help of a cash register, we set up a shop. Helen put out a selection of different fruits and veggies, and the children were able to select the items they wanted to try and put them in their trolleys. This was a lot of fun and encouraged the kids to try new things!
We have loved exploring food in this new way with the children at Choklits, and enjoyed sharing in their excitement and pride as they tried new things and helped to make their lunch! We can’t wait to share what Helen’s Helpers get up to next!a