The importance of nutrition in the development of the young child cannot be understated. It is essential that during this rapid period of growth in bodies and minds, the young child receives a well balanced diet of carbohydrates, both simple and complex, fats, proteins, water, minerals, vitamins and enzymes for optimal health.
Just as important, in these early years are the positive attitudes of the adults nurturing the young child as a social being. As soon as the infant is aware of how others around him are eating, there is an intense interest and desire to imitate this new way of receiving food. This is best supported by offering finger foods and opportunities for the use of utensils by the child, in collaboration with feeding, in a social setting. This acceptance of one of the child’s first attempts toward independence sets the stage for lifelong attitudes about food, family, respect and gratitude.
In the Toddler Community, we offer Food as an Occasion of Education. The children are eager to participate in the preparation of our snack foods and all the activities that prepare the room for our small meal together. Washing, peeling, chopping fruits and vegetables, mixing, rolling, cutting dough for biscuits or grating and spooning cheese onto tortillas are all carried out by the children on a daily basis.
The work area is set up with care so the children may be as independent as possible in their execution. A small cutting board, peeler and a basin for the peels to go into, a chopping tool and a serving bowl provide just what is needed to prepare cucumbers for our snack.
Clean up of the area is another aspect of great interest to the children. Wiping a table with a small sponge or practicing the hand skills for sweeping into a dustpan and carrying it level to the receptacle provide an immense feeling of accomplishment. If nothing makes it to the destination, there is an opportunity for repetition to sweep again. There are always dishes that need to be washed after we work in the kitchen. This is another relaxing but sequence oriented task, that helps a child work with a process to accomplish a goal; dishes are scrubbed, rinsed, and placed in the drainer.
Tables need to be moved together and set with a complete place setting for all the children. These are tasks that require cooperation, collaboration and completion! The younger children are often guided by their more capable peers and little by little, everyone has a spoon, fork, plate, cup and a folded napkin.
The fresh foods that are provided by our generous families offer a variety of healthy, seasonally available fruits and vegetables with a variety of smells, tastes, textures and techniques for preparing. What fun to open a pomegranate and gently coax the arils out into a bowl of water, or scoop the seeds and membranes from inside the pumpkin shell, to enjoy the pumpkin after it bakes. Foods that a child may be unfamiliar with and at first are declined, may be tried as it becomes apparent that others at the table are enjoying them.
As we come together at the tables for our ritual song of thanks and snuffing of the candle, the children are part of a caring community offering nourishment to one another through their foods and their deeds.
There is a precious twinkle in the eyes of a two year old who has been asked, “Will you please help me in the kitchen?”
Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and special moments together as your family prepares for a wonderful meal.