In my work as a child nutrition educator, my goal is to inspire kids and families to adopt healthy habits. My approach is to educate kids to be smart consumers, develop a positive body image and learn to love a variety of healthy foods. Instead of lecturing children, I try to make it fun and challenging. I want kids to become involved in learning by experiencing and discovering nutrition. The goal is to stimulate lots of questions and lively discussions about food choices. I call these “aha” moments.
For instance, nutrition education takes on a whole new life when combined with cooking and baking projects. Learning to bake is a great way to boost confidence and expose kids to new foods. Baking promotes skill development in math, planning, timing and organization. Children who grow up helping in the kitchen enter the adult world with competent cooking skills, a list of recipes they can prepare and a knowledge that healthy cooking and baking doesn’t have to take a lot of time.
Below are some examples of experiential activities that I have successfully used with children over the years.
Make “Little Red Hen Bread”
Combine a bread baking activity with a sequential lesson, featuring the story of The Little Red Hen. As you read the book, talk about the stages of bread making. When the Little Red Hen finds a wheat seed, show the children real wheat seeds and explain that all grains are seeds. When The Little Red Hen plants and grows the wheat seed, show the children a dried wheat stalk. When she takes the bread to the mill, show the children the whole wheat flour. Next, enlist the children in measuring, stirring and kneading the bread dough. You can find some great bread recipes at the Home Baking Association website.
Play with your food
Call it “edible art” and let children have fun shaping, arranging, cutting and sculpting healthy foods into their own personal creations. Because of their vibrant colors, fruits and vegetables make beautiful food art. I know this activity is a success when kids ask, “Is it OK if I eat it?” In the fourth edition of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids, there is an entire chapter devoted to edible art. Children learn to make fanciful food garnishes, healthy dips that entice them to eat more fruits and vegetables, and use cookie cutters to make fun shapes with cheese, whole grains or melons.
Grow something edible
From seed to table, growing vegetables, herbs or fruit inspires kids of all ages. If you don’t have the resources for an outside garden, start with a container filled with organic planting mix and plant easy-to-grow edibles such as basil, radishes or lettuce. Nutrition Fun with Brocc & Roll provides edible gardening activities as well as dozens of resources for home and school-based gardening.
Plan healthy (or healthier) restaurant meals
Challenge kids to find the healthiest food combinations from their favorite restaurants. Using restaurant brochures or online nutrition information, ask kids to design a breakfast or lunch that includes at least four different food groups. For older kids and teens, ask them to calculate levels of sodium, fat and sugar in different meal combinations with the goal of finding healthier choices.
Compare two or more similar foods
Turn kids into label sleuths by challenging them to find the most nutritious breakfast cereal, yogurt or spaghetti sauce. In the math chapter of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids, there are dozens of activities that promote Nutrition Facts “label literacy” while honing critical thinking and math skills.
Learn where food comes from
Take kids on field trips or visits to grocery stores, ethnic markets, farmer’s markets, farm direct stores, community gardens, farms, mills, dairies, orchards and any other local resource that teaches children about the “roots” of their food.
All of these ideas and many more are included in the 4th edition of my book, How to Teach Nutrition to Kids (©2012, 24 Carrot Press).This new edition has been updated and is designed to empower children to evaluate nutrition information, make smart food choices and creatively prepare food. Previous editions of the book have been used with success in thousands of schools, hospitals, scouting programs, 4-H, summer camps, and many other youth-focused initiatives.
The companion workbook and activity guide, Nutrition Fun With Brocc & Roll, 2nd edition (©2012, 24 Carrot Press) combines a discovery approach to learning with a healthy dose of humor. With 42 activity sheets, puzzles and recipes, children ages 6-12 learn to assess food and activity habits, set goals for good health, decode advertising and food labels, and develop basic cooking and gardening skills. The second edition includes the new MyPlate food guide and features activities such as making a snack plan, keeping a weekly exercise tally, analyzing food labels, creating “wacky snacks” and growing an indoor herb garden.
by Connie Evers, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD