One of my favorite activities as a nutrition and wellness consultant is visiting elementary, middle, and high school lunch programs to get kids excited about eating healthy (Visiting Schools ; Visiting Schools 2).
During these visits, we show kids of all ages how easy and fun it is to eat healthy (HS Nutrition Visit).
The best part is empowering the children so they can take this information and share it with their families (especially their parents) and more importantly, use it to nourish their health the rest of their lives. Our goal is to defeat childhood obesity! (Childhood Obesity)
Research clearly shows the earlier we teach children how to eat healthy the more likely they are to continue these habits into adulthood.
I’m so committed to the Healthy Eating for Kids mission that I was invited to visit The Capitol and speak to lawmakers (senators and legislators) and encourage them to continue making this a top priority for the health of our nation (Healthy School Meals_DC ; DC Healthy School Meals_TV). I even had one Senator ‘tweet’ about my experience “On The Hill” (Senator Tweet)… pretty cool.
I used to feel uncomfortable receiving so much attention on my Healthy Eating for Kids mission but now I totally embrace it because it’s working! The evidence shows that kids enjoy and want to eat healthy because they “feel” the difference when they do.
Recent statistics from the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act show the school nutrition program has contributed to a 23% increase in fruit and 16% increase in vegetable consumption among kids. Kids are not the only ones on-board with eating healthier at school. Parents and school administrators also support healthier food choices for children because they see improvements in behavior and academic performance when kids are better nourished.
Keep in mind, we are talking about a massive number of meals eaten each day at school – 12 million breakfasts and 31 million lunches! In most cases, young children are consuming nearly 50% or more of their total calories while at school, so these meals better be healthy!
Another huge component of my mission is to teach practical, real-life examples of how to help kids and families eat healthier. Sometimes, talking or writing about eating healthier doesn’t translate into reality. So, I always use my family as a ‘test-lab’ to see what works and what doesn’t work. My wife and I have 3 children of our own and they have very different eating habits, so it can be a challenge to feed them healthy all the time.
Through trial and error, we’ve learned the most effective way to help them embrace eating healthy is make them each a Chef. Yup, get kids active in shopping, preparing, cooking, and even the clean-up, of the meals. Our slogan is “if you let them cook it… they will eat it”. It’s actually amazing what they will eat if you let them orchestrate the meal (Get Kids Involved in Cooking ). It’s beginning to catch on among children’s TV shows too (Muppet Cookbook).
Just last night, we grilled outside and each of our three children was tending to their own healthy creation on the grill… it was magical!
Please keep in mind, it’s a process that requires continued effort. For example, it takes “time” to shop, prepare the meal (cutting vegetables), cook, and clean-up after. Of course it would be so much easier to just buy take-out or sit-down at a restaurant (and it’s OK to do this once in a while). But it’s so much more worth the effort and time to invest in a home-cooked meal because the trade-off is high-quality, family-bonding time and optimal nourishment. It’s a slam-dunk win-win!
To help transition to this lifestyle easier, I recommend starting with one meal a day for 6 days of the week. It can be a breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s also a good idea to include one day as your “free-day” to eat whatever you want as long as you keep within a sensible amount of total calories (OK To Cheat A Little).
When shopping for your meals, be creative and let the child take the lead. Remember to always include a fresh vegetable or fruit and a healthy protein source in every meal. Select one day to do all the shopping for the weeks’ meals and then set aside a couple of hours to do much of the prepping (we use Sunday afternoon in our house).
As the great thinker Hippocrates said long ago “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Lunch is served…