I recently gave a food presentation to the 3rd-5th graders and 6th-8th graders at my kids’ school by sharing five things that every kid should know about food.
1. Eat food that grows from the ground, not from a factory
The kids already knew that fruits and vegetables generally have more nutrition and less chemicals than packaged food. But that’s not incredibly motivating to kids whose food preferences are typically driven by taste and convenience. So we talked about WHY they should care: healthy people are happy people who have energy to do the things they love.
2. Choose food in smart amounts
We looked at MyPlate and made the connection that half the plate is filled with fruits and vegetables (foods that grow from the ground). Another way to look at it is half the food kids eat during a day should be fruits and vegetables. It sounds daunting, but perfection isn’t the goal. Rather, I challenged the kids to think about a time during the day that they could add a fruit or vegetable to their meal or snack and to enjoy sweets in small amounts.
3. Taste (and like) the foods you eat
I like to help kids develop an appreciation for food (which is tough to do when they are always in a rush to eat). In the long run, people who actually taste their food generally have a healthier relationship with food and a healthier body weight. We did this mindful eating exercise with a raisin, which the kids thought was totally kooky, but got them to really experience all the sensations that go into eating.
We also talked about how foods taste different depending on how they are prepared – and how the chemical composition of a food can literally change with things like heat from cooking. We talked about never saying “I don’t like this food” but rather to say “I don’t like how this food is prepared.” Then use their great vocabulary to explain why. I challenged the kids to keep an open mind and try, try again until they find a way they like that food prepared.
4. Don’t let yourself get too hungry or too full
Throughout the presentation, we talked a lot about really listening to how your body feels during and after mealtime. I introduced the concept of the “hungry-full scale” where 1 is when you feel like you’re so hungry you’re going to fall over and 5 is when you’re so full you feel like you’re going to fall over. I encouraged the kids to stay within the 2-3-4 zone so that they have the energy to do the things they love.
(While we didn’t talk about body weight during the presentation, staying in the 2-3-4 zone is also a good way to empower kids to maintain a healthy body weight.)
5. Eating should be a good experience
The last point we talked about is was how mealtime should be fun and enjoyed. Yes, it’s a method of nourishment, but it’s also a social experience where we celebrate, share and connect with our friends and family. If kids ever feel guilty about their food choices or feel like mealtime is an unhappy time, I encouraged them to talk to a parent or caregiver to help figure out a solution.
Several kids had questions about the restrictive diets their parents follow. For example, how come my dad doesn’t eat any gluten? Or how come my mom only eats fruits and vegetables and never has dessert? To help make sense of it – and alleviate some of the concern the kids had – we talked about how different foods make people feel different ways. While their parents’ choices may feel best to their parents’ bodies, it may or may not be what feels right to their own bodies.