In my last post about children’s nutrition, we decided that helping children eat well must be a priority. Let’s take a look at where we can start!
As a nutrition health educator for elementary and middle school kids, I get to work with curious, growing minds, many of whom are eager to learn. In each class, we talk about nourishing our bodies, the importance of eating “real” food, exercising, and general health. Their favorite part, however, is preparing hands-on recipes in the second half of class. From kindergarten to seventh grade, these children come in with a wide range of “food knowledge” i.e. the ability to prepare food, use a knife, the knowledge of different fruits/veggies, etc. It is easy to point out the children in my classes that have been taught to value their health and the food they eat, as well as children who have been given little direction other than to “eat what tastes good”.
Essentially, kids (at this age) will value what we teach them and show them to value. Unfortunately, children are often shown at a young age by food companies what to eat and what not to eat. They love their sugar, McDonalds, and Cheetos! It is easy to say that this is simply “kids being kids” but if they do not have the tools to make nutritional decisions, these companies will win the battle.
We must not let food companies be our children’s only influence when it comes to health! Let’s go further than simply telling them to “eat their vegetables” and begin to involve them in an on-going conversation about what being healthy really means.
In my class, children begin to see that there is a correlation between what they eat, how they feel, and the future of their health. I’ve learned that children deserve more credit than assuming they will not want to try new foods and eat only sugary, processed foods. They are far more open to new, healthy food than you might imagine! [For example, I once had a young girl insist that she is “allergic” to guacamole and after preparing it herself and eating her obligatory “one bite,” she gobbled it all up!].
We must take time to teach children to value their health and nurture their bodies. If you, as an adult, are confused about the messages society is giving you- don’t give up! Do your best to eat whole, real (unprocessed) foods most of the time, and talk to your kids about the importance of eating well and caring for their bodies.
So, where do we start?
1.) Begin talking! Talk with your children (or students) about food choices and how they relate to health. Ask them their opinion, ask what they already know, answer questions they have and ask which healthy foods they like to eat. If you don’t know the answer to a question, make it a point to learn the answer together by asking a professional or researching online. Discuss: Why should they eat their veggies? What’s the big deal about getting enough fruit? Why does it matter if they drink that soda?
Stay tuned for more tips!