You only have to arrive in the morning and pick up your child in the afternoon to see how much of our day revolves around kai (food). The daily rolling of our bread, harvesting lettuce, celery and tending to our worm farm or compost. There are so many skills and understandings that children learn from their involvement with preparing and growing food. Skills such as cutting fruit and vegetables, holding tongs, understanding about where our food comes from, oral language involved in talking together as well as setting up the lifelong habits of eating fresh healthy food and drinking water.
We want to bring to children a healthy, positive approach to food and all that surrounds it. It is these young children that are forming their approach to food through their experiences. One of the ways that we work with creating a positive approach to food is through imitation.
Imitation is seen in a number of ways. Firstly, a child sees, and immediately imitates – the “can I do it too” attitude. This often occurs with domestic tasks where the child is not obliged to join the activity that the kaiako (teacher) is undertaking. You will see this with our daily activities of hanging out our washing, picking grapes in late summer, making bread rolls, cutting fruit, preparing lunch, setting the table and chairs, washing dishes, sweeping the floor etc. We all eat the same food together. The children see us, and each other trying food, sometimes food that they not have had before. They learn to explore food and just because it may not be right one day, it may be right the next day.
One of the other aspects around imitation is the importance of the environment or the feeling created around food. Children absorb attitudes, moods, and habitual responses. It is here that we aspire to create an environment with food prepared with care and respect. Our meals are served and eaten in a spirit of love and gratitude.
It can be a big ask to be seated at a dining table with up to 20 other people. To manage myself, my cup, sit on the stool and sometimes next to someone I don’t usually play with all takes a lot of concentration and sometimes it’s hard work. With lots going on, it’s important to set up a rhythm to help the young child to have a sense of familiarity. This is one of the reasons that we don’t vary our daily meal. Why we have rice on Monday, soup on Tuesday, pasta on Thursday’s and so on. The weekly cycle of our menu also gives us a freedom to build deeper relationships with each other, and we’re not worrying about if we are going to like (or not) today’s meal. Each Tuesday the soup tastes the same as it did last week. Whilst for adults this may seem rather repetitive, for the young child, it brings security and removes any anxiety that young children can have about trying a new food. At kindergarten, food is bigger than personal preferences, and children grow to love all (almost) that is on their plate. Having a repetitive menu also allows us to easily accommodate those with diverse needs and allergies in regards to nutrition.
There is a special kind of conversation that comes with mealtimes. This is the time for sharing about our day, asking questions, laughing together and enjoying that special feeling of connectedness that we have by just being together. At Kindergarten we really value this special time of connectedness which has a powerful impact on the approach to food.
These practices begin, over time, to influence the person they will become