Teaching nutrition is not the flashiest or most interesting subject but it can have a significant impact on our children. Our nutrition can affect us in many ways including mood, health, illness, energy level, and much more. Yet, many people are unaware of the reach of nutrition. But by starting an open discussion on nutrition at a young age, we can prepare kids to make good decisions for their own nutrition.
Proper nutrition can ward off illness, lengthen life span, and ease discomfort. Learning proper nutrition can mean that ours kids don’t have to struggle as adults. Good diet techniques may come naturally to them instead of a difficulty.
Here are 5 Simple Tricks to Start Teaching Nutrition to Kids
1. Teach Portion Control
One of the biggest problems today is not that people eat bad food (though it is part of the problem) but that they eat too much food. Our portions are just much too big. When we look at what other cultures eat, the food isn’t necessarily better quality. But they tend to eat far less of it.
I like to take a simplistic approach to teaching portion control. First, we look at nutritional facts to see how many portions are in what we eat. I find this especially useful in products that appear to be a single serving, like drinks and snacks. They’re often more than one serving.
Next, we illustrate how much a portion is in our favorite foods. We start by getting out all of our measuring cups and a few types of foods we have. Then we measure out what we think a portion should be (or how much we usually eat at one time). Then we measure out how much is in an actual serving. And finally, we compare the difference between the two.
2. Encourage Variety
Variety is fun and exciting but for some kids it’s slightly terrifying. However, variety is a great way to ensure we are getting all the vitamins and minerals we need. The more types of food we eat, the more likely we are healthy. Of course, this means more than having bagels, muffins, and a sandwich. We need a good variety of fruits and vegetables, protein, carbs, fats, and more. Different fruits and vegetables offer different vitamins. The same is true of carbs, fats, and protein too!
Having the same food day in and day out is not only boring but also not the best way to give ourselves nutrients.
3. Carbs, Fats, and Protein
I’ve found that many people don’t know what foods are carbs, fats, and protein. The fact is that we need all 3 but there are healthy options and unhealthy for all 3. Learning the healthy options for carbs, fats, and protein will make a big impact. I didn’t learn the differences and the options until I was well into adult-hood, which is just much too late.
Fats are considered bad but the truth is, we need fat! Plus, there are some great fats that we can use instead of the bad fats. Healthy fats include avocado, eggs, some fish, cheese, and nuts. We don’t need a lot of fat but eating a small amount of the right fats is a good idea.
Carbs come from bread-like products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. Carbs are typically broken down into glucose and used as energy but some carbs do this better than others. Some people argue that carbs are not necessary, but this is different for every person. For people who do eat carbs, some healthy sources for carbs are vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains (actual whole grains like oats and brown rice).
Despite popular belief, protein can come from places other than meat. Although, meat is a great source of protein. Our bodies use protein to build and repair cells – skin, bones, blood, muscles, etc. Healthy proteins can come from dairy and eggs, lean meats, seafood, and nuts.
4. Have Food Challenges
My kids respond to challenges really well so I try to offer challenges. They are always low on competitiveness and pressure as one of my kids already has trouble with certain foods. But they are meant to be exciting and encouraging.
Here are some challenges we’ve tried:
- A-Z Food Challenge
- Eat the Rainbow Fruit and Vegetable Challenge
- Make Art with your Food Challenge
- Guess the Serving Size Challenge
5. Moderation is Key
The key to a healthy diet is not to give up everything that may be unhealthy. The key to a healthy diet is to enjoy mostly healthy foods but allow yourself to enjoy unhealthy food sometimes. Finding the amount of the “sometimes” is very important. A treat once a week should be no problem but it will depend on who you are! Kids should know that deprivation doesn’t garner results but moderation can.
Some More Resources for Teaching Nutrition to Kids
Eat This, Not That for Kids – these books bring nutrition to such a simple level. The kids version speaks directly to kids in an interesting ways! I especially love that it tells you what not to eat and gives you an alternative. Too often we just hear “don’t eat that” and are left with nothing to replace it.
Good Enough to Eat – this book shows kids examples of good food to eat. But it also shows good food in proper portions.