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How to turn mealtime into a brain building activity for young children

SALT LAKE CITY — Eating foods loaded with vitamins and nutrients is important for brain development in young children, but child education experts say there’s even more you can do in the kitchen to make it a meaningful experience.

When Rachel Wright drops off her two sons at daycare, she knows they’re in good hands.

“I don’t have to worry about trying to pack in the lunch or have a snack ready,” she said.

Their day starts with a nutritious meal.

Jessica Lloyd, owner of the Creative Learning Academy of Utah, said healthy food helps children focus.

They try to serve lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid processed meat and make everything homemade.

“It opens up their brain to be able to learn and to interact,” she explained.

She said it can also play an important part in brain development.

“Their brains are just ready to pick up whatever we have for them,” Lloyd said.

She encouraged parents to talk with their kids at mealtimes.

“Talking about how it’s made, where it comes from,” she suggested. “The texture, the taste, the color, the shape, and then just encouraging them, you know, ‘You might not think you like it, but have you tried it?’”

Wright practices pronouncing and reading letters and words on food packaging with her 3-year-old, Max.

“We were just eating some Cheerios and he I was just pointing at letters and he was like ‘the A says Ah,’” she recalled.

Wright was impressed by his growth.

“I was completely blown away at how he was getting them off a random package!” she said laughing.

Lloyd encouraged parents to read recipes together with their children.

“These letters form words and that tells mom what to do,” she explained.

She said cooking or baking together is also a good opportunity to practice counting with your child.

“There’s so much you can do with math with cooking,” Lloyd said. “This is one cup, and a half a cup is half of that, like even just those conversations.”

It can even be a form of play.

Wright pulled out baking kits with her children this summer in the kitchen. She said her boys loved it.

“[The] kitchen ends up being a disaster, but they have a blast,” she said.

Lloyd told parents to let their children them help plan and shop for meals.

“Giving them a voice and a choice in that process is really important,” she explained.

She said preparing or sharing meals together is one of the best forms of love and is a great way to create meaningful memories.

“Because we’re teaching them how to take care of their bodies and we’re also pouring love into the food we’re making,” she said.

Wright is grateful for the experiences she’s had in the kitchen with her own boys.

“They are just, you know, the light of my life. They just have brought so much joy,” she said.

For more ideas on how to make eating healthy meals fun and engaging for your kids, visit the 5B45 website.

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