Exploring food

What is my food and where does it come from? For a toddler who is just beginning to explore the world, these are big questions and they don’t yet have the answers. 

Together you can explore the journey of food and let your toddler discover the answers for themselves.

Learning about food

A sense of ownership, it’s their food and they understand it, will increase their motivation to try it. Ownership can come through knowledge - if your toddler has planted the food, watched it grow, and picked it from the plant before having it on their plate, they are far more likely to view it positively.

At home, try growing some baby carrots or peas on the window sill, or encourage your toddler to wash some strawberries or peel a banana. Don’t ask them to eat the foods but simply let them explore them. That way the pressure is off and they can relax and discover fruit and veg for themselves.

So next time, when they are faced with orange carrots, squidgy strawberries or furry kiwi on their plate there will be no mystery. They know what it is, where it comes from and what it feels and smells like.

At the shop

On a rainy day, pop to the supermarket and spend time in the fruit and vegetables section, allowing your child to touch the produce, ask questions and point out their favourite colour.

Let your toddler choose a new fruit to take home to explore and experiment with. Imagine the pleasure for a little one of choosing and buying a new and unusual fruit, and talking about it.

Help your little one out with some questions:

  • What it might smell like?
  • How you’re going to prepare it?
  • Whether it’s sweet or sour?
  • Who will kiss it first?

“When Bethany is in a helpful mood we take her own shopping trolley with us. It’s a little toy one, and she fills it with fruit she would like. I do have to fight her from eating everything as she goes!”


Cooking together

Cooking a tasty meal with toddlers helping can be a challenge. Holly Bell shares how she cooks with little helpers:

Make it simple

For me it’s about age appropriate helping. When the boys were little, they had their own spoon, a little bowl and two tablespoons of flour with some form of spice to mix up.

They didn’t actually contribute much to the process of cooking dinner, but they thought they did, and that’s what matters.

Keep them busy

Choose recipes where they can get involved.

Anything where most of the time is spent deep frying or slicing with a mandolin will end in bored tears.

Ask for ideas

Allow some autonomy. Imagine never being able to deviate from a recipe?

Life would be boring. It’s the same for kids. If they suggest adding a little onion to a dish why not try it?

From shop to plate

A meal is like a good story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

It starts with planning and shopping, then the cooking and ends with laying the table, taking drinks orders (the happiness of a child with a piece of paper, playing waiter is beautiful!), and clearing plates.

Plant, grow & eat

Sugar snap peas

Eat these as shoots, snaps or peas.

Pea seeds are big so your little ones can space them out or line them up in rows in a plant tray or recycled packaging.

Simply fill with 7-10cm of compost and sow the pea seed 2cm below the surface.

Plant, grow & eat

Keep them moist and pea plants will sprout up within a week.

After 2 weeks your little one can pick off the pea shoot leaves and eat them. They taste like peas. 

You can plant some of the seedlings into bigger plant pots and pop them on the window sill.

At 60cm they will flower and form peapods. These are delicious eaten straight from the plant.

If you resist picking them all, the remaining pods will soon fill with peas. Your little one will love to pop them out of the pod.

“Children don’t respond positively to phrases such as “Eat it all up” because they think what if they don’t like it?

Or “Just try a little bit”, because they might wonder what is wrong with it, or think it must be horrible if I only have to eat a little.

So I encourage children to get excited and explore fruits and vegetables in a fun and sociable environment, without asking them to eat, try or taste anything.”

Lucy Thomas

Getting hands on

Toddlers can struggle with the sensory aspect of new foods and textures, particularly if like Lucy's daughter Molly they have suffered reflux. And touching wet or sticky textures can be challenging.

Lucy recommends float and sink games to encourage your toddler to handle a slice of tomato or banana to see if it floats or sinks in a bowl of water. Or sorting a bowl of chopped fruit and vegetables into colours.

Activities like this engage children with a simple way of touching new foods with a fun distraction that helps reduce anxiety of new textures on their hands and will build their confidence to later handling them for longer and maybe smelling or kissing them!

Fun food ideas

Put the fun into experimenting with food to help little ones love fruit and veg, so you encourage interest in the food as well as getting your children to actually eat it.