Teaching food: beyond the table (putting ourselves in little shoes)


Annie aged 3 happily playing <Annie’s thoughts> Unicorn beanie boo has such lovely soft fur, I just want to pat it. Ohhh… Or maybe I’ll brush its hair….now where did I put the small brush…beanie are you hungry? Let me get you a cup of tea….hey….hey… What’s that…what’s that noise? Is someone talking to me? Can’t they see I’m busy?

Mum: “Annie, I’ve asked you five times to come to the table”

At the table <Annie’s thoughts> What the heck is that on my plate? What is that jelly fish looking thing touching my meat? Is that meat? What’s on top of it? It looks slimy? Is that carrots, I think that’s carrots but I’m not totally sure and what that is next to them? They look like peas but they are bigger than peas. Are they monster peas? Maybe peas are babies and these are their mums? Does she want me to eat that jelly fish looking thing? Do you eat jelly fish? Is it safe? She’s not eating it, maybe it’s not safe? How come she’s not eating? Maybe it’s a starfish…but where is it’s legs? Oh…look at that spider on the wall…it’s walking towards the light. I want to go closer and see it…but it’s all the way on the roof…

Mum: “Annie…you haven’t touched your dinner….”

Sounds like your house?

Did you know that in order to make mealtimes more peaceful and enjoyable, to help your child try and eventually accept new foods, you need to step away from the table. Food education begins away from the table.

It takes many positive food exposures both at the table (think role modelling instead of pressure) and away from the table before a small person decides they feel comfortable enough to give a food a try.

Top ideas for food education AWAY from the table (and remember to keep things pressure free and fun):

  • Books

Reading is a wonderful way of learning. Try and find positive or neutral books about food (and the body). Forget preaching nutrition or health, just nice stories involving food.

Our favourites are:

You can also just look through cookbooks.

  • Make your own book

Print off pictures of fruit and veggies, trace over their names and make your own book. Or make a book out of photos of yourself and your kids doing foodie activities (cooking, gardening, making banana smiles and carrot horns).

  • Craft

Google arts and craft for fruits and vegetables and you will be blown away with ideas.  Other activities I enjoy with my kids is making play dough vegetable soup or fruit salad. Drawing ingredients is also fun. The inside of a lemon is interesting to try and draw.

  •  Cooking

Get your kids in the kitchen- you can do baking but they can also help you with everyday tasks like cutting the veggies (see our kids safe knife), make salad, roll meatballs, painting veggies with oil before roasting them. Crumbing fish or chicken can be a great activity and then just keep in the fridge until dinner time! Entertaining the kids and making dinner – win, win!

For more inspiration about cooking with kids read our age appropriate guide to cooking with kids here.

  • Shopping

How do we know when an avocado is ripe? How do you tell the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini? When shopping ask your kids to count out 5 orange carrots. Or would they like green or red apples this week?

  • Gardening

Now people think because I’m a foodie that I have a clue about gardening. To be honest, I am yet to master the skills of a plentiful veggie patch. But does that mean I don’t try each year? Well no, I always try! Sometimes we have to cut the one strawberry we grow into 6, so everyone gets to taste the ‘bounty’ but that’s okay! I remember when we lived in a small unit, and we grew cherry tomatoes in a large pot. That was the year my son started eating tomatoes…maybe there was a connection?

  •  Foodie adventures

Farmers markets, berry picking, community gardens, market tours, attending a cooking class.

  •  Pretend play

My daughter loves her pretend shop and café. We play at the park, in the cubby house and even in the bath. She orders things from me and we play. I ask for tea, muffins and cakes but also fruit salad and vegetable soup. I make sure there are some fruit and veggie toys as well as the pretend ice-cream and chocolate, so like in life, we can experience them all.


SO have fun playing with your kids and experiencing food away from the table. Remember positive interactions with different foods, including fresh fruits and veggies, will form part of their food education.

When they come to the table, remember to be patient and calm (and not pressure or force them to eat) as that way they can learn to become adventurous eaters in their own time.

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