There are many reasons why it is important to educate our children about proper nutrition. If you are reading this article, you probably agree. It is important for everyone to have good nutrition for good health. Kids in particular are growing and developing so rapidly that good nutrition plays a major role in keeping them healthy and happy.
So how do we teach kids about nutrition? The first step is having an educator who knows about nutrition. Parents can have a basic knowledge of good eating habits just by learning about the Food Pyramid, food groups, and how to read food labels. School teachers can do the same. Another option is to have a Registered Dietitian available. Dietitians are food experts!
It is important that kids learn about nutrition and good eating habits at home. This can begin at a very young age, simply by the parent or guardian teaching the types of foods. For instance, even a three-year-old can know that an apple is a fruit and a carrot is a vegetable. Talking about this each time a meal or snack is served is the simplest way to teach kids to identify foods. Picture books with different foods in them can help kids learn to identify them, too.
Children also need to be taught to eat when hungry and stop when full. Generally, all day “grazing” is discouraged; children often pay more attention to what they are eating and have better eating habits if mealtimes and snack times are scheduled. However, if a child says he or she is hungry and it will be a long time before the next meal or snack, giving some fruit or vegetable and some water will help the child to learn that eating when you are truly hungry is important. When a child is eating a meal or snack, if he starts playing with his food, you can ask “Are you full?” instead of just “Are you done?” This will help teach the child that there are ways that the body tells us when we are hungry and when we are full.
Children also need to be taught that it is important to eat different kinds of foods. They will learn this if various types of foods from all of the food groups are presented on a regular basis. Try to offer a variety of foods at each meal or snack, but avoid pressuring your child into eating one particular food. Find a food from each food group that your child likes and alternate those foods with newer or less preferred foods to encourage your child to try different things. Remember that children often change their minds about food preferences!
Finally, the best way to teach a child about good eating habits is to set a good example. Eating meals together and eating healthy foods from different food groups will help your child to know that you mean what you say – eating right is important! There are many other “role models” for eating habits that your child will see – other kids, teachers, people on T.V., etc. Setting a good foundation at home will help your child to distinguish good eating habits from not-so-good habits.
For children going to school, the school should be an environment that supports good nutrition, starting in preschool and elementary school. The Food Pyramid, food groups, and reading food labels can be taught as part of a health, physical education, or even science curriculum. Even simply mentioning what food groups are included at a meal or snack will help kids learn. The school cafeteria should serve meals that are nutritious and balanced. There can even be signs in the cafeteria that label each food and list its food group. Foods should not be regularly offered as rewards for academic achievements or good behavior, especially unhealthy foods like candy, ice cream, and pizza. There are many other options for rewards: stickers, prizes, a points system, special positions like class leader, a dance party, or even extra recess time. Some schools may require parent involvement to bring this information to the attention of the administrators.
Another way that kids can learn about nutrition is by having a qualified dietitian teach classes. These classes often involve games or activities to teach food groups, portion sizes, and reading food labels. This information will need to be reinforced at home so that it is applied knowledge.
If we all work together, our kids can learn what it means to eat healthy and grow strong. Children will only learn about nutrition if we teach it to them. Do your part in educating kids about nutrition basics!