Healthy eating, and not just when we feel like it

We all know that it is our job to make sure we meet the dietary requirements of the children in the food we provide them while they are in care. We also know that we have an obligation to engage children in discussions and activities about healthy eating. It says so in the NQS “Healthy eating is promoted and food and drinks provided by the service are nutritious and appropriate for each child” (Element 2.2.1) and the EYLF “Children take increasing responsibility for their own health and physical wellbeing” (Learning Outcome 3).

This is not what I want to talk about, I want to talk about the other areas we bring food into the service outside of the menu or children’s lunches they might bring from home. When we do cooking, or have events, or eat in front of the children, are we continuing to role model healthy eating habits?

Cooking with the children is an excellent activity, that covers all 5 of the EYLF Learning Outcomes and teaches skills such as literacy (following recipes), language (developing new vocabulary), counting and measuring (quantities in the recipe), turn taking, science (watching how the ingredients react together). When you plan cooking activities with the children do you reflect on whether they meet they healthy eating policies of your service?

Here are some great cooking activities children can get involved with and will allow for a lot of discussions about healthy food:

Fruit salad – Children can cut and scoop different fruits and help make a colourful healthy fruit salad.

Salad – Lots of services have their own vegetable patches so why not make a salad. Children are more likely to try foods if they grew them because they are more invested. Don’t forget there are loads of different types of salad including ones with added beans/pasta/rice/meat/cheese etc.

Sushi – This is another simple and easy, yet very healthy, option to make with children, just pre cook the rice

Smoothies – Chop up some different fruits and mix with yoghurt or coconut milk to make smoothies for the children.

Healthy ice blocks – You can buy ice block moulds or sells packs of zip lock icy pole tubes. Just remember juice has a LOT of sugar in it, perhaps water down and add pieces of fruit, or make with left over smoothie!


In addition to cooking experiences there are also some great recipes children can help with for resources for play.

Play dough – Make play dough with the children, even if they mix the ingredients and you cook it.

Paint – With just a couple of ingredients children can make their own paints. Try using natural sources of colour too, like flowers and leaves.

Glue – Save money and make some glue with the children.

Goop/slime – Another great opportunity to measure and mix to see science in action.

I’d love to hear what healthy cooking activities you do with the children in your service in the comments below.




The perils of pinterest

Pinterest is an amazing tool for collecting ideas on different activities that can be implemented into your program to follow up on children’s interests and needs. There are loads of great posts and ideas on sensory play, loose parts play, inviting set ups, recipes for paints/doughs/science experiments etc.

But there is a downside to Pinterest. It is also filled with loads of posts of adult lead, adult focused ativities that are eye catching to us as adults, but do not have a child focus. A lot of these activities are from other countries that have a different approach to early childhood education and care, and different programming requirements.

It is up to us as educators to understand which activities we pin and which we ignore because they are not suitable for our needs and do not reflect the EYLF or NQS. I have come up with the following helpful guide to use when considering which activities to save to our own personal catalogue:

  1. Is the activity suitable for a range of developmental abilities? When we look at activities we need to consider our audience. Can all children participate, even those with additional needs or developing skills? If the activity requires children to possess certain skills and limits involvement from those without these skills, it is unlikely to be useful. The activity on the left is quite structured and requires a particular level of skill or a lot of educator support, whereas the activity on the right is looking at the same subject but allows for varying levels of development to enjoy the same activity.  PhotoGrid_1458874519059
  2. Is the activity open ended? By providing open ended activities we give children choice to make decisions and develop their own sense of agency. A lot of craft activities are very limiting as the children have minimal control over what is happening. This teaches children that their thoughts and opinions don’t matter. Open ended activities are also more inclusive because it is hard to do them “wrong” whereas structured activities can provide opportunities for failure, which is likely to impact positive emotional development. While both posts cover the same skill, weaving, the one on the left is quite controlled and limited, and the one on the right is open ended and allows for children to work on the skill without worrying about the end product being “right”.
  3. Is the activity meaningful? I always find it helpful to ask why we are doing an activity and what the child is getting out of it. If the activity isn’t meaningful for the child then will they really engage with it? There are lots of pins on Pinterest that ‘tick a box’ in terms of teaching a child developmental skills, instead of providing a meaningful experience of the children to engage fully with, while learning the same skills. The activity on the left is very limiting and may not really be teaching the child about circles, however the one on the right allows children to explore all sorts of different circles in whichever way they choose, making it more meaningful for the child.
  4. Who is doing most of the work? We often see activities that the child does very little work for, and most of the hard work is done by the educators. We have more than enough tasks to get through on a daily basis without giving ourselves extra work of cutting and finishing off the work of the children. This also sends a message to the child that they are not competent enough to do their own work. For example the activity on the left is done mostly by the educator whereas the one on the right says to the child that they are competent and capable and are free to explore.
  5. What is the rationale for the activity? Why are you planning the activity and where does the need/interest/skill come from? This is about thinking whether the child is the centre of the planning or you are interrupting the children’s interests to implement activities you think the children should be doing. For example if the children are interested, or need support, in counting and numbers you could do a structured Easter themed activity like the one on the left. Alternatively you could explore a more creative, open ended, child focused activity that has nothing to do with a celebration or theme but has to do with the children’s interest like the one on the right.

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