What if I told you there’s something you can do this summer (and beyond!) that will help your kids experience new flavors, get them excited about helping in the kitchen and teach them geography all at the same time? Look no further than the United States of MyPlates Challenge hosted by Jen Haugen, RD of the Down-to-Earth Dietitian.

United States of MyPlates logo by Jen Haugen, RD

United States of MyPlates logo by Jen Haugen, RD

The inspiration for the challenge comes from 54 winning recipes in the 2012 Healthy Lunchtime Cookbook some of which were served at the 2012 Kids’ State Dinner. “Junior chefs” from all across the country submitted recipes to the good folks at Epicurious who helped whittle down the winners and spruce up the recipes for the final cookbook. Jen and her kids have been “cooking their way across America” testing recipes and making their own modifications along the way. Their whole family gave the Minnesota Stuffed Bell Peppers high marks, so that recipe is on my “must make soon” list.

Photo courtesy Jen Haugen, RD

Photo courtesy Jen Haugen, RD

As if the challenge itself weren’t cool enough, Jen also created this awesome DIY map for tracking their “travels” using chalkboard fabric (which I didn’t even know existed until she told me about it!) and a projector. She gives step-by-step instructions on how she made it on her blog.

Photo courtesy Jen Haugen, RD

Photo courtesy Jen Haugen, RD

If you want to up the ante and add a physical activity component to the fun, create a family challenge to walk across America. There are ideas on how to do it all over the internet like this or this. Basically each member of the family needs a way to track steps (a simple pedometer is inexpensive) and then you decide as a family how to convert your steps to distance traveled. The math involved in this could be another fun academic challenge for the summer!

Enjoy your summer travels – whether you are logging real miles or exploring with your tastebuds!

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