Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beyond the Book: "Gregory, the Terrible Eater" by Mitchell Sharmat

It's been a while since we did a story stretcher here, and with temperatures outside cold enough to ice your coffee--literally (see photo to the left), an afternoon indoors is definitely in order. S has been learning about health and nutrition in school this week. He is very happy to be back in preschool! He loves being there and gains a great deal from the experience. He is, nonetheless, often reluctant (as many children are) to share about his day after I pick him up. I am creative with how and when I ask questions. Open-ended questions right upon pick-up, like "how was your day?" or "what did you do today?" are often met with silence. For one thing, he is very ready for a nap at that point and this transition is a challenging one. For another, the question really puts him on the spot and one thing he can control at three years old is what, when, and how he answers. Many days I will simply ask "would you like to tell me about school now or later?" He often says "later," and sometimes he says "now!" I ask more specific questions on some days, like "what made you laugh?" or "who did you play with on the playground?" And on all days, the  best glimpse I get into S's school experience is through his play. He will play about, sing about and talk about his school day throughout his time at home--you simply have to catch him in the act!

Another area that is a hot bed for three year old control is eating. I am here to tell you thirty years after being S's age that I am a fully recovered Terrible Eater. Before I was a parent, I vowed I would not be a short order cook the way my own mother was, often preparing three different dinners and barely sitting down to one herself. Y has been a total chow-hound these days, yet to meet a food he does not love. S began in much the same way, but around the age of two began to show preferences about foods. When his nutrition was less than optimal, we supplemented with homemade smoothies, which he still loves. He eats a variety of healthy foods (and enjoys a variety of less healthy ones), but he is definitely particular still and often reluctant to try new things. He will down a green smoothie, but won't eat a hotdog. He wants the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day. He wants a variety of options for dinner and none of them include what's on our family menu. My husband and I quickly decided not to allow mealtimes to be battlegrounds in our home. The energy level by dinner time is dwindling and it is also a family time after a long day of school, work, and other activities. It feels more important to have peaceful time as a family where there is something for everyone to eat than for everyone to eat the same something.

Gregory, the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat, illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariana Dewey is a wonderful, classic children's tale of a goat who adamantly refuses to eat the foods his parents want him to eat. What child or parent can't relate to this? The only difference here is that Gregory favors fruits and vegetables while his parents would prefer he eat the shoelaces and cardboard being served at the family table.

This afternoon, we will enjoy laughing our way through this favorite book along with some fun extension activities. It likely won't change our dinnertime much here, but you never know...

 Eat a Rainbow of Fruits & Veggies Sorting Game

In this DIY sorting activity, I printed and laminated a collection of photos of fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors. I also printed off color coded words to label each of six brown paper lunch bags. Alternatively, you can use and label paper plates, use colored gift bags or canvas bags or even color code a six-sectioned party tray. S will have the task to sort the colorful fruits and vegetables into their correct bag. This is a great opportunity to talk about fruits and veggies your family likes or does not like as well as to introduce vocabulary around fruits and veggies you may not have tried yet. You can talk about how important it is to eat a variety of different foods in different colors.

Want to do more? If you have a toy shopping cart or basket or even a recycled/reusable shopping bag, send your little ones on a scavenger hunt through the toy kitchen (or even your real kitchen) to find more foods in each of the colors.

Take a Family Field Trip to the grocery or produce store and let your children choose a new fruit or vegetable to try. If it is something you've never had before, it can be fun to choose a recipe together to prepare it. S is often reluctant to try new foods at first, but if he chooses it, it's a game changer. Additionally, involving him in the preparation process also inspires a brave pallet. When he is particularly averse to trying something, I might offer him to touch it with his tongue. I do not force children (my own or students) to try foods and I also believe there is value in being honest with them about trying new foods. I do use language like "you may like it and you may not like it but you won't know if you like it unless you try it." I also tell them honestly about foods I don't care for as much or examples of times I used to not like something but liked it after trying it several times (like sushi!). Many enthusiasts on the topic steer clear of adults discussing foods they do not like in front of children, but I feel it is helpful to be honest and also to point out that different people like different things at different times and that's OK! It also opens up important conversations about how to politely decline or discuss foods that are not one's favorite.

Dramatic play is a big part of our afternoon fun here. S has been particularly into small world play and this miniature goat, chair and table and our collection of miniature toy food will undoubtedly inspire a great story drama! Y can join in the fun as well with this larger play set with a plush goat and toy food and dishes.

Color, Paste and Taste the Rainbow!

I found a great free printable on Teachers Pay Teachers to use as a template for this activity. I did a bit of prep work to save on time by color coding, but depending on your little ones' level of ability or your availability to assist, you can definitely leave this to them. You can provide printed pictures of fruits, veggies or other foods, stickers or magazine pictures to glue on and crayons for additional coloring.

Want to do even more? My favorite recipes to make each year when parashas Noach comes are rainbow fruit salad and rainbow vegetable salad.  S may prefer the taste of the rainbow in his favorite candy, jelly beans, but he also loves fruit and many vegetables as well. Presenting foods in novel ways is a great way to encourage your own terrible eaters or even just particular/opinionated ones!

There are so many studies to support the benefits of involving children in family nutrition. From farm to store to kitchen to table, participation gives them a connection to the important process of feeding and nourishing their bodies. S really loves to help in the kitchen. Y loves to be in there with me as well (especially if eating is involved or loudly banging pots and pans). For those times when I need to plow through a stack of dishes or prepare dinner with fewer cooks in the kitchen, the sensory table (also in the kitchen) is a great lure. In this simple sensory bin, just add soapy water and let your little hands scrub some fruits and veggies in a rainbow of colors! S has also enjoyed scrubbing actual fruits and veggies in the past (which is particularly helpful when I am making vegetable soup or a salad!) but soapy water and some interesting sponges or scrub brushes are always fun for little hands, no matter what is in the bin along with it.

We're off to an afternoon of good reading and food for thought. Happy Playing!

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