Teaching children about nutrition can be a sensitive topic. Being too strict or having too many rules may disengage kids from the conversation, but just hoping it will catch on without positive reinforcement and direct teaching may not ensure healthy habits. Having a positive relationship with food starts with understanding it. We’ve gathered some tips on how to make teaching nutrition to your children fun, empowering, and effective.
Carbohydrates are the bodies’ preferred source of energy, so this macronutrient should make up a lot of our diet.
Protein is mostly used in our body to build and repair muscle and tissue but has many other important functions as well.
Fats have been given a bad reputation, but they are a very important part of our diet. The body needs fat to store energy and vitamins, to produce hormones, and to protect our organs. There are saturated and unsaturated fats:
Saturated fats should be eaten in moderation - too much can be unhealthy for the heart. Sources of saturated fats include:
Unsaturated have the opposite effect as saturated fats and can be beneficial to the heart. These fats should be included more in the diet:
At Meal Hero, we strive to suggest recipes that represent balanced meals. Nutritious recipes that are rich in vegetables and fiber, whole grains, and vegetarian and non-vegetarian proteins. Above all, we believe that the most important part of a balanced meal is a home cooked meal. These are some of our most popular balanced recipes to try for dinner tonight:
Turn the abstract into common sense. It can be hard, even as adults, to sometimes see the direct results of eating certain foods. Practice reinforcing these lessons when talking about the benefits of different fruits and vegetables. Better understanding the benefits of the ingredients we eat helps fuel kids and set them up for success and a great day ahead.
Another approach is to observe which foods resemble body parts. Many times, these ingredients are an indication of what they benefit.
Kids are great at mimicking. If they see their parents preparing, eating, enjoying, and benefiting from healthy food choices, they will want to do the same. Lead by example and have everyone in the family support one another. This is a particularly helpful tip for picky eaters. If all their options are healthy ones, which they can see family members enjoying, they just might buy in.
There are several directions to take when talking about nutrition with kids. While all of them are important, finding the avenue that resonates with your child’s personal interests helps to activate their engagement. Meet them where they are.
Understand where food comes from: Start a garden, visit a farm, or talk to a local farmer to discover how food is grown and harvested. Building connections with food in this way is the first step toward genuine food curiosity.
Introduce life science and physical education through kid-friendly anatomy and biology lessons. For sporty kids, this can be an effective approach to show how diet and nutrition fuels and empowers professional athletes.
Make the connection of mood and food. Oftentimes, our psychological state is a direct result of our physical well being. Intuitive eating is a concept that is taking the world by storm, and for good reason. Really tuning in and listening to your body and its needs will teach you more about your optimal nutrition than any guide. Nutrition is not one-size fits all, but it starts with a general baseline, from which to start. For children, a meltdown may be an indication that they didn’t eat or drink enough. Use this opportunity to say, “Tomorrow we’ll try again and eat more (or healthier).” Get kids involved by giving them a journal with colorful markers and stickers to indicate what they ate and how they felt that day.
Combine story time with educating kids about nutrition. Choose books that teach the principles of nutrition through affable characters and colorful visuals. These are some popular ones: N is for Nutrition, We Are What We Eat, The Fruits We Eat, Nutrition Fun with Brocc & Roll, Gregory, the Terrible Eater, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt
Learning about food and nutrition extends outside mealtimes, which can be a stressful time for kids. Interactive games, worksheets, quizzes, and videos can be a great tool for kids who want to learn more about developing a strong nutritional base. For younger children, start with food and nutrition-themed books and toys to start the conversation.
Sometimes it’s ok to play with your food because, let’s be honest, food is fun! Encourage children, especially young ones, to explore the full sensory experience of their plate. The snap of a carrot stick, the texture of a smashed banana, the vibrancy of a beet, the aroma of an orange are all tiny yet mighty discoveries that make food more interesting.
Try incorporating the letter they’re learning at school as your theme at home. If the letter of the week is “Z,” find different ways you and your child can eat zucchini, such as zucchini bread, zucchini chips, zucchini dippers, zucchini lasagna, zucchini pancakes, or chocolate chip zucchini muffins.
Learn about taste buds. Try foods that fall into the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory categories. Discuss all the different tastes and which other foods have these tastes. This is a great way to encourage adventurous eaters, especially as you bring the conversation to the dinner table. For a science experiment to explore taste, try this project.
Cover a board game like checkers or tic-tac-toe with plastic wrap and use fruits, veggies, crackers or veggie chips as the game pieces. When a player jumps a piece they get to eat it the treat!
Whether you have a backyard full of vegetables, or just a pot of herbs in the windowsill, get the kids involved. Observe the gradual progression each day to see how much they have grown and to check their water. When it’s time to harvest, those tomatoes will feel much more exciting than the ones from the market.
A special thanks to Julia Mohseni of Countryside Montessori!
If you liked this article, you'll LOVE the rest of our Classroom in the Kitchen Series! Check out other topics we've covered below: