Education and Food: How to Bring Learning to the Dinner Table

Last Updated on December 1, 2022 by Jason Nguyen

From helping children through their ABCs and 123s to instilling proper values and mannerisms, it’s not wrong to assume that parents have a lot on their plate when child-rearing.

But did you know there’s an overlooked opportunity to teach to extend education beyond the classroom walls and into the dinner table?

It’s true. Mealtime provides the perfect opportunity to teach your kids about nutrition, healthy eating habits, and a slew of other lessons that they can carry beyond dinner time.

Read on for some tips on how you can turn dinnertime into learning time.

1) Describe the food you’re eating

Talking about the foods on the dinner plate with your child is a great way to improve their vocabulary and enhance their appreciation of food.

Unlike learning new words in a classroom setting, your child will have a direct sensory association with the word that they’ve learned. This will help make it easier for them to recall the word in the future.

As such, tell them the shapes and colors of the foods they’re eating. Building these concepts early on can be a great foundation for when they begin school and start learning more complex subjects.

On top of that, you can also attach descriptors like chewy, salty, and crunchy to the foods on the dinner table. This will help your child not only build their vocabulary but also to understand the different textures and tastes of food. This way, they can achieve a practical understanding of what they’re eating instead of just seeing it as “food.”

2) Ask your child to help with dinner preparation

Getting your child involved in the cooking process is another great way to make the most of dinnertime.

Mealtime presents the perfect opportunity for children to develop their active listening skills and sense of discipline. For instance, you can ask them to pass a half-cup of water to you, which will exercise their cognitive ability to pour the right amount of water into a cup as well as their executive ability to pass the object to you.

You can even apply the concept of dramatic play and let them play the role of head chef. Learn more about it with Raising Stars.

At the same time, your child can learn about various ingredients, how to measure ingredients, how to prepare a meal in the proper order, and what each kitchen tool is for simply by observing you. By exposing your child to this environment, they’ll sharpen their skills in the kitchen and become more accustomed to dealing with a dynamic environment.

3) Teach them about where food comes from

While it may seem obvious to adults, children may not have the slightest clue about where their meals are sourced.

As a learning opportunity, you can educate your child about the food’s origins. For example, if you’re enjoying salmon, you can tell them about how that fish dwells in freshwater places like rivers and lakes. You can then expand and talk about the difference between the lake and oceans.

If they’re eating pork chops, you can talk about how it comes from pigs. Furthermore, if they’re eating a salad, you can discuss how the salad is combined with various vegetables that were grown on the ground.

By exposing your child to where their food comes from, you’ll help them connect with nature and break the notion that food appears out of thin air. This will help them become less wasteful of their food later on.

4) Use mealtimes to practice reading and counting skills

Mealtime can be a great way for children to practice their literacy and counting skills.

For example, if you’re eating at a restaurant, you can have your child read the menu aloud. This will help them with their reading comprehension skills. It can also be a good time for you to correct any mispronunciations they may have.

You can also exercise your child’s ability to count at the dinner table. For instance, you can also have them practice their addition and subtraction by helping you calculate how much tip to leave or how many plates are needed to serve everybody.

If your child’s a bit older, you can have them solve more complicated math problems. For instance, you can ask them questions like “If we have 4 people at the table and each person wants 2 plates of food, how many plates do we need in total?” This way, they can practically apply what they’ve learned in school in a real-life setting.

5) Introduce different cultures through food

One of the great things about food is that it knows no bounds. No matter where you are in the world, you can thoroughly enjoy a meal that originated from halfway across the world.

As such, mealtime is a great way to give your child a sensory experience that celebrates different cultures and traditions. If your grandparents or great-grandparent’s roots lie in another country than the one you’re currently residing in, you can prepare a meal that celebrates you and your child’s heritage.

On top of that, you can also use mealtime as an opportunity to teach your child about other cultures and international cuisines.¬†For example, if you’re having Japanese food for dinner, you can tell them about Japan and what they’re known for on the global stage. The same goes for other cuisines like Indian, Thai, and Mexican!