5 Ways to Teach Nutrition to Kids

May 5, 2016

Teach your kids about nutrition with 5 easy tips that can help nourish their growing bodies and minds. 

Teach your kids about nutrition with 5 easy tips that can help nourish their growing bodies and minds. @jlevinsonrd

I’m excited to share today’s post with you all! It’s a guest post from my colleague and friend Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RDN, CDE, who is founder of the popular family and children’s nutrition site, SuperKidsNutrition.com, and creative mind behind the Super Crew kids. As a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with a master’s in nutrition education, Melissa helps teach and inspire families to live healthier.

Back in my early days as a registered dietitian – and before I had kids of my own – I occasionally wrote and edited for SuperKids Nutrition, and last year Melissa shared with me her Beet Hummus recipe and fun video of her making it. So I’m excited to have Melissa back here again to share her tips for teaching nutrition to kids in a fun way!

Take it away Melissa!

Teaching kids about nutrition may feel like a touchy subject. We never want to push them away by applying too many food rules or forcing them to eat all their peas. However, teaching your kids how to make nutritious choices is important for a healthy future. In order to reach your children, make learning fun and empowering. Use these 5 easy tips to teach your kids how to best nourish their growing bodies and mind.

  1. Empower with Choices: Offer two healthy choices at a time, “would you like red peppers or baby carrots.” This way, kids feel like they have control over what they are eating – plus research shows they’ll eat more of the food they choose. By offering choices, it teaches them what eating will be like in the real world. Remember, health isn’t a zero-sum game. Teach your kids to make one better choice at a time. Not every meal has to be 100% healthy, but you can make one healthy swap at each meal. Start by aiming for 80% of your choices to be healthy and work your way up to 90%. Leave 10% for more indulgent choices. For example, next taco night, offer Greek yogurt as a healthy alternative to sour cream.

Teach kids about nutrition with this new game foodLeap, created in partnership between SuperKids Nutrition and the National Restaurant Association Kids Live Well program.

  1. Make it a game: With technology today, the reality is children love video games. Make it an educational experience by choosing games that teach your kids valuable lessons. FoodLeap, a new free app on iphone and ipad from the National Restaurant Association and SuperKidsNutrition.com is a great teaching tool for parents. Children get the thrill of playing an adventurous game, while Super Baby Abigail leaps and bounds catching healthy whole foods while outsmarting hostile kitchenware (tea cups, tongs, spoons). As she completes each level of Rainbow Road, she unlocks fun and tasty facts about the foods that she’s captured. Make this an opportunity to bond with your children by playing the game together and discovering fun food facts. Then discuss your favorite ways to eat the healthy foods featured in the game.
  1. Balance the Plate: Show your kids that healthy eating isn’t about forbidding any one food or food group but enjoying a variety of foods in appropriate amounts. Provide treats in moderation so they don’t feel like they are missing out and gorge on them away from home. In the spirit of the healthy swap, melt a square of chocolate in a dipping bowl and serve with fruit (strawberries, bananas, apples). It’s so fun and delicious, who needs a bowl of chocolate ice cream?

Build a happy face pizza with the kids using fruit and vegetables as the parts of the face and head!

  1. Veggie Building Blocks: Build a body made out of nutritious foods to help your child understand the benefits of foods for each part of their body. Chop a couple carrot coins for the eyes, slice a piece of tomato for the heart, and arrange celery for the bones and limbs. This teaching method works great for children who are visual learners. Check out this fun happy-face pizza recipe loaded with veggies.
  1. Eating out right begins at home. It’s going to be challenging to get your kids to order healthy menu items dining out if they don’t eat balanced meals at home. In order to know how to eat healthy outside of the home, children need to become familiar with eating healthy inside the home. Get them involved in the kitchen, and cook meals together when time permits. Keep it simple – start with a 3-ingredient veggie slaw, refried bean burritos (tacos, canned beans, salsa, low-fat cheese, lettuce), or home made guacamole. Keep it simple but start cooking together. When dining out, check out the Kids LiveWell program, which offers healthy kids meals at many restaurants.

More about SuperKids Nutrition and FoodLeap

The National Restaurant Association collaborated with SuperKids Nutrition to create a new gaming app called FoodLeap to bring attention to the Kids LiveWell program, which offers healthful children’s menu items at 150 restaurant brands representing 42,000 restaurant locations across the nation. The aim of FoodLeap is to grow awareness about Kids LiveWell, while increasing children’s knowledge about the benefits eating more healthy whole foods.

SuperKids Nutrition was funded as part of a CDC.gov grant (through Healthy Dining Finder), which distributed Super Crew toys and activity place mats to kids who choose healthy menu items at select restaurants through the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program. With the efforts of the Kids LiveWell program, organizations like SuperKids Nutrition, and parents and kids efforts- eating out can absolutely be healthy!

What’s your best tip for teaching nutrition to kids?

Teach your kids about nutrition with 5 easy tips that can help nourish their growing bodies and minds. @jlevinsonrd
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  1. These tips are great! My kids are all fruit lovers, but when it comes to eating vegetables at dinner time they are often fussy. I’m going to try offering them choices, rather than the “it’s this or nothing” approach (the “nothing” usually ends up being fruit or a peanut butter sandwich haha, I’m not that harsh!).

    1. Thanks Kyra! I definitely find offering choices – both of which you would be happy with them having – helps a lot. I strongly recommend to parents not to be short order cooks and give in to the kids begging for something else b/c then they learn that they don’t need to eat what’s served. Some may say I’m harsh, but I’ve had really good success with my kids!

  2. These are great tips! I love the reminder to empower through choices. I know I like to have choices, so it would make sense that kids would too! 🙂 Hopefully I remember that strategy when my daughter starts actually vocalizing her opinion on what I make for dinner. 😉

    1. Thanks Melanie! Yes, giving choices to kids is so important. Like you said – we want choices, so of course they will want choices too. Enjoy the days of your daughter not vocalizing her opinion yet!

  3. Great tips for sure, Melissa & Jessica!

    Creating healthy eating habits in your kids requires a lot of dedication.

    My mom was definitely short order cook for my sisters – it wasn’t good for my mom or my sisters!

    My biggest tip for helping kids eat healthier is to never go for the “kid’s menu”. They should eat what the grown ups eat.

    Not only because “kid’s menus” are usually loaded with unhealthy fried foods, but also because it makes them think they “only like that food”. It’s so harmful to make that food separation because it encourages their “pickiness”.

    There’s a lot sensibility required from the parent as well.

    The other day I was at a restaurant, and I noticed a mom was scolding her daughter (maybe 9-10 years old?) for picking an unhealthy dish of fried chicken and fries.

    In my opinion that’s a really bad approach. You need to gently guide your little one into healthier options, not just scold them for their choices if they don’t know any better.

    1. Absolutely agree with you about the kid’s menus and the need for a gentle approach. Thanks for sharing Brenda!

  4. Great tips Melissa! I’m so happy Jessica invited you to do this wonderful guest post. The happy face pizza is so adorable and such a great idea. I can’t wait to make one myself and I’ll definitely be downloading FoodLeap today 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment Sonali! I bet Sienna will love the happy face pizza! And I already love playing the FoodLeap game myself, lol!

  5. This is fantastic Jess. I don’t have kids yet but as a RD I totally agree that these are the right steps and tools to take to raising healthy eaters.

  6. I have always found that kids will eat more healthy food if they help you make their meals. They just seem so proud of their work! Thank you for these great tips 🙂

    1. It’s so true! Before I had kids I actually wrote a cookbook that was based on getting kids into the kitchen so they could be part of the process. It’s amazing how much more interested they are when they have a hand in it! Thanks for commenting!

  7. #1 was key for us! And now our kids eat just about everything (minus raw peppers!). Letting them choose between 2 things that I’m ok with either way makes everyone happy.

    1. That’s awesome Lindsey! I really believe in empowering children by giving them choices and when mom or dad give choices they are happy with everyone wins!

  8. Great tips Jessica and Melissa & I agree that giving kids choices is key! My mom wasn’t a veggie eater {still isn’t} so she never “made” me eat my veggies. I’ve done the same thing with my kids, and I am finding that SLOWLY they are trying more veggies on their own without my even suggesting it 🙂 Love that pizza face-so cute!!

    1. Thanks for sharing EA. “making” kids do things never seems to work, whether it’s eating veggies, taking a bath, or wearing that dress you bought that they said they loved and then sat in the closet for a year! It’s great to hear your kids are slowly trying more vegetables. Gives me hope for the veggies my girls don’t eat!