A Unique Child

Understanding Water in Our Food in the Early Years

  • Understanding Water in Our Food in the Early Years

In the fifth part of her series on nutrition, Patricia Pillay suggests cooking activities and simple science experiments to explore H2O in your setting…

Water is found all over our planet. It is the only thing that all life in the world depends on. People, animals and plants cannot live without water. Everyone knows that we all need food but we cannot produce food without water. We need water to grow our plant-based foods and we need water to grow grass and other plants to feed the animals which we eat. Our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water.

Water by itself has no colour, no smell and no taste; consequently, it’s almost impossible to really dislike water. All young children should be encouraged to drink plain water rather than drinks containing sugar, sweeteners and other additives that their bodies don’t need.

Water has some very important jobs to do in enabling our bodies to work efficiently and so keep us as healthy as possible. For example, water in the body dissolves the minerals and other nutrients essential for health which are found in food. This means that our bodies can make efficient use of those minerals and nutrients.

As part of the way in which our bodies process the food we eat, our kidneys wash away all the elements our bodies do not need. If we don’t have enough water in our bodies, our kidneys will not be able to work properly and so things that our bodies don’t need get left in our bodies.

Some of these things are toxic to our bodies and have a negative impact on our health.

Below you will find cooking and experimenting activities to help you explore water with the children in your setting.

Rehydrating dried fruits

Drying foods by taking the water out of them is one way to preserve foods. This gives us foods such as dried fruits – raisins, apricots, prunes, dates and figs to name a few.

While it’s fine to eat these dry, it’s also possible to put water back into them so that the fruits become juicy again. This makes them much easier for the body to digest.

You will need:

  • A selection of dried fruits such as raisins, sultanas (both of which are dried grapes), apricots and prunes (which are dried plums)
  • Bowls of clean water

What you need to do:
The fruits will absorb water (rehydrate) at different rates due to differences in their size. It is, therefore, a good idea to put each type of fruit in a different bowl.

Put the fruit into the bowls and add enough water to cover them completely. Leave to soak through the day, somewhere where children can easily see them, and encourage children to come back to them at different points in the day to talk about what is happening.

If you soak the fruit first thing in the morning you will be able to drain the fruit in a colander and use it to make the fruity couscous below in time for tea.

Indoor cooking – fruity couscous

You will need:

  • 200g uncooked couscous
  • 200ml water
  • 1 tsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp butter
  • Rehydrated dried fruits (See the ‘rehydrating dried fruits’ activity above)

What you need to do:
Cut the fruit into small pieces using safety knives or clean scissors, then put the water and cooking oil into a pan and bring slowly to boiling.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir the couscous into the water. Put the lid on the pan and leave it to stand for three minutes.

Add the butter and cook gently over a low heat for three minutes. Stir in the chopped fruit and your fruity couscous is ready to eat.

Outdoor cooking – summer berry fruit juice

You will need:

  • A pan suitable for cooking on an open fire
  • Clean, fresh water. You will need to take this to your outdoor cooking site, so make sure that you have a suitable container for this purpose
  • Summer berries – this can be any soft berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, blueberries; you might even be able to pick your own blackberries in
  • season. Mixed packs of frozen berries are widely available. These will work just as well as fresh fruits
  • A sieve and a large jug
  • Cups or mugs to drink from

What you need to do:
Wash the fruit just before you use it. Bring the pan of water to the boil over the fire – make sure that it is really secure on the fire. When the water boils add the fruit.

Let the fruit simmer in the water for 10 minutes then use the sieve to strain it into the large jug. Remember to let the juice cool before children drink it.

If you are not confident using an open fire with children, you could make the fruit juice by standing the pan of water on the cooking rack of a barbeque. This will still give them an experience of cooking outdoors. Remember – all your usual fire safety rules will apply.

Experimenting with water

Is water essential for life? Try this experiment:
You will need three plants of the same variety and size – tomato plants are good but you could use runner beans, pumpkins, cabbages, etc. The plants should be in equal-sized pots.

If possible put the plants on a sunny windowsill. Label the pots ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ so that the children can easily keep track of them.

  • Give plant ‘A’ a little water each day.
  • Give plant ‘B’ a little water on alternate days.
  • Give plant ‘C’ water once a week.

Study the plants each day with the children and talk about what is happening to each of the plants.

When our bodies do more work, do they need more water? Try this experiment:
Go for a short, slow walk with the children – just around the garden is fine or even up the stairs to a different room. Offer the children a drink of water and encourage them to think about how much they feel they need to drink so they don’t feel thirsty.

Go for a run with the children – make this reasonably long and quite energetic so that children can feel their hearts beating faster. Offer the children a drink of water as you did after the short walk. Again, encourage them to think about how much they feel they need to drink so they don’t feel thirsty.

What do they notice about how much they feel they need to drink?

Taking water away – make your own crisps

Peel a potato and slice it as thinly as possible. Wash the slices thoroughly under running water to remove the starch, and then dry on kitchen paper.

Lay the potato slices in a single layer on a plate and sprinkle with salt. Leave them for 45–50 minutes. After this time the salt will have drawn the water from the potato.

Rinse the potato slices under running water and dry on kitchen paper. Toss them in a little cooking oil, then lay them in a single layer on a baking tray and bake in a hot oven (220℃, 425f, Gas 7) for 10–12 minutes for delicious homemade crisps.

Read the fourth part in Patricia’s series, on dietary fats and oils, here.


Patricia Pillay is an early years consultant and qualified forest school leader.

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