We all want our kids to grow up healthy and happy. And we know that being healthy means eating a nutritious diet, being physically active, getting enough sleep, and staying away from harmful substances like drugs.
When it comes to nutrition, we may have started our kids on a healthy journey with food before they were even born! We took our prenatal vitamins, ate healthy foods (or whatever we could stomach after those bouts of morning sickness) and avoided raw fish and alcohol. Now that they’re getting older, they’re starting to make their own decisions about foods – and they may not always reach for the most nutritious options. But, helping kids learn about nutrition in a fun and engaging way can help nudge them toward better food choices.
8 Fun Ways to Engage Kids in Nutrition
Helping our children cultivate a good relationship with food can help set them up for a lifetime of healthy habits. It’s not about labeling foods as “good” or “bad” foods, but instead, teaching them to appreciate the different ways that foods fuel our bodies and finding ways to enjoy a balance and variety of nutritious choices.
We can teach these lessons in a number of ways and starting at any age.
Keep it simple. You may know a lot about nutritional science and the ins and outs of human metabolism, but you don’t need to get into such detail with your kids. Simply help them connect food choice with health benefits that are meaningful to them. For example, you might share, “Strawberries have vitamin C, which can help keep you from getting sick.”
Look for ways to connect nutrition to their everyday lives. Your budding athlete may find it interesting to know that carbohydrates help fuel their physical activity, and that protein after exercise helps repair and strengthen their muscles.
Keep it positive. Often, we hear what we shouldn’t be eating. However, all foods should fit within an overall healthy diet and in moderation. Instead, shift the focus on what kids should be trying to eat more of, like fruits, vegetables, whole-grain and fiber-rich foods, protein-rich foods, and good sources of calcium, vitamin D and iron.
Let them be scavenger hunters. The grocery store can be a great place to reinforce healthy habits and get kids engaged in the decision-making process. When you’re at the store and trying to choose between cereals, for example, ask them to find which one has the lower amount of added sugars, or the higher amount of fiber. Explain why that’s important.
Play online games. Sometimes it’s better to let someone else be the teacher! The Kids Corner page on the USDA’s website Nutrition.gov offers a variety of activities and online games for kids of all ages, from early readers to teenagers, to help them be more nutrition-focused an label-literate.
Make it funny. Kids love potty humor. It’s also true that constipation is common among kids (and is very unpleasant). Go ahead and tell them that eating fiber-rich foods, along with drinking enough water, will help them poop! Even teach them the tune about beans (and let them know that beans are a fiber and protein –containing food!). They’ll laugh, but they’ll also remember.
Turn the kitchen into a classroom. The kitchen is a lot like a lab, but with delicious results! Let kids experiment with foods and flavors, trying different vegetables, herbs, spices or sauces to liven up their meals. Use that time together to find ways to make healthier choices, like using a sprinkling of cinnamon to add flavor to oatmeal and to offset a need for excess sugar.
Grow a garden. If you want your kids to eat more vegetables, consider growing your own! If you don’t have much space, radishes and microgreens, as well as many herbs, are easy to grow in a pot by the window. Let kids nurture the plants from seed to harvest, and then observe while they taste the fruits of their labor.
Model good behavior. No matter the age, your kids are watching and learning from you. Be careful about stigmatizing food choices with words like “bad” and “gross,” since healthy eating patterns are complex and inclusive. Avoid talking about diets or food restrictions unless there’s a medical need, like you need to avoid gluten because of celiac disease. Instead, set a positive example by trying new foods and enjoying a variety of foods in moderation.
Kids have a natural curiosity – and they also love to eat! Channeling that curiosity into fun ways to learn about food and how it fuels our body is a great way to set them up for nutritional success.
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