Dinnertime is an opportunity for learning new words, practicing motor skills and experimenting with cause and effect.
Looking for a yummy way to practice your little learner’s science skills? Try doing these activities next time you make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner!
Remember: Always wash your hands before handling food! When preparing food for you and your family, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Children younger than 5 years old are at risk for foodborne illness because their immune systems are still developing. Visit Foodsafety.gov for tips on keeping food safe for children younger than 5 years old or visit CDC’s page on Food Safety.
Baby (6 to 12 months)
At 6 months, babies who can sit upright with little or no help, have good head control, and have displayed the ability to lean forward to accept food when feeding are ready to be introduced to solid foods. If the food you want to introduce your baby to is spaghetti and meatballs, here are some tips to do so in a safe way:
- Let your child try one food at a time at first. This helps you see if your child has any problems with that food, such as food allergies. Wait three to five days between each new food.
- When trying new foods, avoid chocking hazards. You can let your child try a variety of textures including: smooth (strained or pureed), mashed or lumpy, and finely chopped or ground.
- Encourage your baby to pinch or pick up food as they develop their fine motor skills.
Activity: Your baby may be too young to eat spaghetti and meatballs, but they are old enough to try new foods. Apart from a usual dinner of mushed veggies, let your little learner try a small sample of ground meat. Describe what you are doing while feeding your baby: “I’m giving you a little pinch of ground meat.” Older infants can pick up very small pieces of soft, overcooked pasta. Give your little one a bowl or just put pieces on the table. Encourage them to pick up the food with their fingers: “Can you pick up the noodle with your little fingers? Watch mommy pick up a noodle.” Let your baby be creative and explore: When your baby smears food across their tray, they are discovering cause-and-effect – and even though it’s sometimes a messy process, it’s an essential part of their scientific growth!
Tip: Are you worried about breaking dishes or cups? Use dishes and cups that are not breakable and do not have sharp edges. Or just place food on clean (and easy to clean up) tables.
Now that your little one is eating many foods with ease, you can encourage healthy habits. This is a great age for trying different food options:
- Vegetables — cooked spinach, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes and beets
- Whole grains — whole grain breads, crackers and pastas
- Meats —soft, small pieces of beef, lamb, chicken, fish and turkey
- Dairy — pasteurized yogurts or cheeses
Activity: While cooking, describe what you are doing. “I’m putting the noodles in the boiling hot water. Let’s watch what happens next!” Your 1-year-old’s intense curiosity drives their learning, and they are taking it all in right now.
While eating, use words to describe different textures: “Tomato sauce is wet.” “Noodles are slippery.” “Meatballs are squishy.” Use math words, like big and small or more and less while preparing and eating food: “This is a big meatball, let’s cut it in smaller pieces before we eat it.” “Do you want more tomato sauce on your spaghetti?” Young toddlers are also old enough to learn how to use utensils or drink from a cup with no lid. Let them practice their motor skills and perfect their new abilities through trial and error.
Watch as your toddler’s natural curiosity drives them to figure out how things work! Read more about your one-year-old’s science learning.
Is your child a picky eater? Your child might not like every food you give them on the first try. Give your little learner a chance to try foods again and again, even if they don’t like them at first. Try these tips:
- Wait and try again — Wait a couple of days before offering the food again. It can take more than ten times before you toddler might like it.
- Mix it up — Mix new foods with foods you know your child likes.
- Set the example — Try eating the food first to show your child you like it. Then, let your child try it.
- Choices — Give your child a choice of different foods to try. Let your child decide which one to try today.
Activity: Sometimes, picky eating is one way for little learners to have choice and control. Letting your 3-year-old pick out the pasta shape for dinner may help. Cooking is a great way to teach children about measurement! Ask your child to grab measuring cups as you read a recipe out loud. “I need two cups of breadcrumbs. Can you help me find the one-cup measuring cup?” Pause and read the directions again. “Now, how many times will I need to use it?” Then, let them help with dinner tonight. Older toddlers can help squish tomatoes for the sauce with their hands, after washing them. Show your little kitchen helper how to form a perfect meatball! Remember to practice food safety.
Tip: A child’s serving size should be approximately one-quarter of an adult’s.
Why is a noodle stiff at first, then floppy later? The little scientist in your house is asking new questions about the world around them. They can also follow directions — which means they are ready to be your kitchen helper.
Activity: Have your pre-K learner help you prepare dinner from start to finish. Forming meatballs, measuring ingredients and adding extra cheese once the spaghetti is plated let your little one help out. Ask them why they think pasta changes from stiff to floppy, or how they imagine different pastas are made. Make a food adventure chart and display it on the fridge. Try new foods together and track your adventures! It can be just a piece of paper with squares and check marks on it. Ask your little learner what they think about different combinations of veggies and cheeses. “Is broccoli better with linguine?” or “Do you think asparagus is a better match for spaghetti?”
Grow your own ingredients. Basil is an herb that is easy for kids to care for (it will survive if they forget to water it). According to PBS, children who participate in gardening projects score higher in science achievement than those who do not. And a bonus of growing basil at home? Your kid will be more likely to try it if they help grow it.
Tip: To get your little one to eat more veggies, try out vegetarian recipes for spaghetti using vegetables instead of —or in addition to — meat.
The so-called “scientific method” is actually something we all use all the time, whether we’re wearing goggles or not. Learn more about your pre-Kindergartner’s science learning.
Build Your Child’s Brighter Future!
Want to dive deeper into your child’s science learning? Check out these blog posts: