What Kids Know

April 2, 2018

Cute elementary children having lunch at school

As nutrition educators, it is always a little surprising to realize what kids know. When it comes to healthy eating, sometimes they “know” more than we think they do, and other times they can be “pretty far off base.” Nutrition misinformation and sensationalized studies can make it confusing for all of us. The frequent new “this or that” diets or recommendations make it even more important for nutrition education to help kids:

1. Understand the “basics” of healthy eating choices and how to use tools like MyPlate.

2. Understand how to identify healthy habits and the skills needed for balanced choices.

3. Adopt positive attitudes and build skills for healthy habits:

  • Develop cooking skills to:
    • Learn how healthier foods can be tasty choices
    • Experience the difference “colorful” plates can make
    • Develop more variety of food choices
  • Understand how all foods can fit in a diet with healthy choices
  • Find enjoyable ways to balance eating intake with physical activity

4. Help to make healthier options from which to choose available.

A recent WOWS Newsletter thought for the week is from Henry J. Kaiser: “Find a need and fill it.” We know there is a need; let’s fill it one step at a time.

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Cute toddler boy in supermarket choosing fresh organic carrots

Knowledge of nutrition without application leads nowhere. Be a “change helper” by helping kids recognize healthy habits; inspiring positive attitudes; identifying and developing skills; and setting realistic goals. The following example identifies a healthy habit and focuses on one of a number of skills for making “Smart Servings.”

Healthy Habit Goal: Choose “Smart Servings”
An activity that targets skills for recognizing and choosing less of foods high in saturated fat and added sugar.

Ask kids to:

  1. Identify their favorite snack foods and list them on a board.
  2. Review the list and identify snacks that might be higher in fat and/or sugar.
  3. Bring in package labels or search for product nutrition facts labels online.
    – Review the labels for serving sizes and compare to typical intake.
    – Check fat and added sugar content.
    – Rank the order of foods from those highest to lowest in fat. Do the same for added sugar.
  4. Talk about strategies for lowering fat and added sugar intake (answer: smaller servings or choosing those foods less often, or making another lower fat/sugar choice).
  5. Talk about whether or not they would use those strategies to make a change. If not, identify the barriers and possible solutions.

Elementary Pupils And Teacher Eating Lunch

March is National Nutrition Month®, and the 2018 slogan is “Go Further with Food.” This month is the perfect time to go further with support for healthier habits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has ideas to celebrate the month; Healthy Kids Challenge has seen success with the ideas posted for schools or workplaces. We’ve highlighted a few of those, along with some suggestions:

  1. Vote for your favorite fruits and vegetables: Offer a selection of fruits and vegetables cut into bite-size pieces. Ask participants to vote for their favorite vegetable and fruit. Post a tally board to record votes. Handout “20 Ways to Enjoy More Fruits and Vegetables.” HKC Suggestion: Start a Fruit and Veggie Challenge. Have kids tally the number of fruits and veggies they eat each day.
  2. Classroom: Ask children to carefully save empty food product labels and boxes. Spend some time reading labels and comparing information in the Nutrition Facts panels. Expand into a menu-planning opportunity, individually or in teams, using MyPlate as the guide to a healthy meal. HKC Suggestion: For a “Snack Attack” lesson, collect snack food labels. Create a pictorial graph of food from the most to the least amount of sugar or fat.
  3. Organize a health fair that promotes healthy eating resources and important preventive screenings. HKC Suggestion: Make it as interactive as possible. For example, focus on fruit and veggie resources and conduct a vote for their favorites, as suggested in #1 above.

Family At Home In Eating Meal Together

A number of smaller “bits” of healthy changes over time can add up to make a big difference. At home or at school, changing our own habits and way of thinking is just as easy as practicing small changes.

It is still common to hear parents and teachers talk about rewarding kids with sweets like ice cream or a school pizza party. The concern is not because the kids are having ice cream or pizza, which can be part of a balanced eating plan. It is the consistent use of foods (very often sweets) that is perceived as a reward by the child…a habit that can be carried through life. Each month in 2018, choose several small “bits” of change. Practice helps form healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Ideas to Start the Year

  1. Turn off whichever screen is on (TV, computer, phone) while eating at home. Instead, talk with your family members.
  2. Put snacks on a plate instead of eating from a bag or box.
  3. Use fun physical activity as a reward. Anyone for miniature golf or a scavenger hunt in the park?
  4. Drink water instead of sugary beverages.
  5. Try a fruit or vegetable that you don’t usually eat.
  6. Tune up your “hunger meter.” Eat and enjoy small bites. Stop eating when you are pleasantly (instead of uncomfortably) full.

Kids Reflect What We Do

December 27, 2017

Family Enjoying Meal At Home

Each issue of the WOWS Newsletter includes an inspiration quote. In the most recent issue is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

When it comes to developing healthy eating habits for children, that quote is very relevant. Just as important as the way parents talk about food is the way in which they choose to eat.

Children can also pick up on their parents’ attitudes about food. As role models, parents need to make sure they’re demonstrating a healthy attitude toward food so their children do, too.

Research shows that family mealtimes have a big impact on how children eat as they grow into adulthood and start making food choices of their own. One study showed that children who eat meals with their parents tend to eat more fruit, vegetables and dairy products than children who don’t. There is also research that shows that when parents increase their physical activity, kids do too.

Holidays are a great time to start making healthful eating the standard at home and at work. What you do everywhere you live, learn, work and play is reflected in your attitudes. Healthful behaviors don’t require giving up all the things you enjoy. In fact, the healthy attitude is that in a normal diet there are no good or bad foods, only the way in which you choose them. Making healthful choices comes down to developing healthy habits that guide balance.

Friends in summer

Teachers, youth leaders and teams find HKC wellness approaches and action ideas effective and easy to use. They report that the HKC tools provide great new strategies for teaching core curriculum. One of the successful strategies is repetition of healthy habit messages using the Healthy6.

Six healthy eat, move and enjoy balance life step goals relate to eating and physical activity components identified by the Centers for Disease Control and National Health Education Standards. Hands-on lessons develop positive attitudes and practical skills for healthy choices.

The creation of a summertime journal, as discussed in this month’s newsletters and blogs, incorporates a number of hands-on lessons and personalizes learning. As kids work on the journal, they are helped to understand that healthy habits don’t just happen. They are the result of practicing…another way of saying it is “be the change you want to see” until it becomes a habit.

Goal setting and “challenges” to motivate and measure progress is one way to personalize learning. For example:

  • First, determine how many fruits and vegetables you are eating each day and how that compares to a healthy intake (see ChooseMyPlate.gov for recommendations). Then, create a fruits and vegetables goal towards a healthy intake. Such as, eat one more fruit or vegetable each day. Then set a “challenge” to achieve that goal every day for the next week. On a calendar, record the number of fruits and/or vegetables eaten each day. For each day the goal was reached, place a star on the calendar.
  • Use the same plan to set a goal and a “challenge” for more minutes of physical activity in the day.

Start with Small Changes

March 27, 2017

Happy family having roast chicken dinner at table

The aim of the 2017 National Nutrition Month® is to inspire everyone to start with small changes toward a healthful eating style – one forkful at a time. Choosing healthier food options is important; however, to make sure the choices become a healthy habit, it is also important to recognize other factors that cause less healthful eating.

The CDC has identified habits that may be leading some of us to overeat. Below, look at and highlight the common the eating habits that may be leading you to overeat and to weight gain.

  • Eating too fast
  • Always cleaning your plate
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating while standing up (may lead to eating mindlessly or too quickly)
  • Always eating dessert
  • Skipping meals (or maybe just breakfast)

The next step is finding the small changes that work for us. The CDC’s Improving Your Eating Habits suggestions include:

  • Turning off the TV – It is too easy to get distracted which results in overeating and missing out on enjoying each bite of food.
  • Supporting family members – It is easier if family members join in and encourage progress towards healthier habits.
  • Eating slowly – When eating too fast, it is hard to tell when hunger stops and feeling full begins.
  • Out of the package and on to the plate – Studies show we eat much more when snacking out of a multi-serving bag or a box.
  • Set times for snacks – There is nothing wrong with a planned healthy snack. Without set snack times, there is a tendency to eat when bored.
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