With Halloween over, the holiday season is getting into full swing. While we’re probably thinking about all the delicious foods we’ll have for Thanksgiving and more, our early learners are continuing to develop associations with food, events, family, and friends. It’s because of this increased interaction with food that the holiday season is a great time to introduce the concepts of good nutrition and healthy eating to our children. See below for four ways to encourage healthy eating and teach healthy eating concepts to your early learner:

Making Trail Mix

One of the reasons I like making trail mix with early learners is that it introduces the concept of portion size through measurement. Portioning is one of the most important nutritional concepts to introduce in a world where plate size and restaurant portion size seem to increase each year. And while it may not be feasible to have your early learner measure spices for dinner during the weeknights, you can easily set aside time once in a while to make trail mix.

Try the recipe below for your next holiday party:

Trail Mix (a little over 19 half-cup servings)

  • 3 cups of miniature pretzels
  • 2 cups of (preferably unsalted) peanuts; mixed nuts can be substituted
  • 1 ½ cups of your child's favorite cereal (chocolate Chex or Honey Nut Cheerios are frequent favorites)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup dried fruit (ex. craisins, pineapple, apple—pre-packaged bags are available at most groceries)
  • 1 cup of M&M's or chocolate chips

Be sure to portion the mix into individual containers per half cup. Ask your early learner:

  • Why is measuring important?
  • Why do we only eat a little at a time?
  • Which ingredients are “sometimes treats”?

MyPlate coloring for food groups

The USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov is a great place to learn more about nutritional guidelines for different ages—both children and adults. Although the online games are fun, the biggest hit during my ChooseMyPlate trial was the coloring sheet (see: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/sites/default/files/audiences/ColoringSheet.pdf ). Have your early learner draw and color their favorite fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains!

You can also place non-messy foods (such as pasta, rice, beans, apples, bananas, etc. on the printed sheet)

Identification: Visual discrimination in photography and art

Reinforce the development of your early learner's visual discrimination, nutritional knowhow, and vocabulary by having them find and/or name healthy foods and "sometimes treats" in food art. Simply search "food collage" on an internet search engine to find thousands of images. Ask:

  • Can you name all of the foods?
  • How many vegetables can you find? Fruits? Meats? Grains? Nuts?
  • How many "sometimes treats" or desserts can you find?
  • Below is one of my favorites. This painting by Ellen Nelson (www.EllenNelsonArtist.com) can be used for learners with more advanced visual discrimination skills. 

Questions and explanations during grocery shopping or cooking

My cousin Kristen is a genius with this. After picking her son, Max (3 months), up from his early learning center she immediately starts dinner for the family. She plays music and explains what she is doing as she chops onions, celery, etc. My friend Stacy also does this while grocery shopping. Every couple of items she picks up she explains to Ava how she will prepare them, and how they come together to make healthy meals. These are great ways to introduce healthy eating habits and nutritional concepts to infants and older.  

It’s never too early or too late to lay the foundation for good nutrition in your early learner’s life. Establishing good eating habits and nutritional concepts in early life is proven to reduce health issues later on. At CCSWFL we believe that child nutrition is critical. That is why we put so much time and energy into our USDA Food Program. As our program director, Beth Goldberg, says, “we literally put our money where our mouths are by endeavoring to provide access to food education, food, and healthful diets to children in need.”

Download our free ebook, 12 Nutrition Hints & Tips For Your Children to get even more nutritional information for your early learner!


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Topics: Child care

Claudia Auger

Written by Claudia Auger

A volunteer for Child Care of Southwest Florida

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