How To Teach Kids About Healthy Eating
In my 13 years of interacting with thousands of parents in person and online, one of the biggest pain points I hear from parents involves FOOD. Whether it’s dealing with picky eaters, bad food habits, what to pack for school lunch, meal planning, or dealing with guilt induced by Pinterest food perfection, parents are SO OVER IT.
I feel you. I really do.
Like many families, our food journey has had its challenges. I used to feel like such a failure in the face of “You’re not a short order cook! Just make one dish and make them eat it!” advice because we couldn’t just cook one thing. At one point Laurel was a vegetarian and we thought Violet was allergic to dairy, gluten, nuts, and a variety of produce. It was super stressful.
Our food journey has gotten easier over time and I have realized that there are some really simple ways to teach kids about healthy eating, and that opting for family style eating (vs. Pinterest-level plated dishes) is a really great thing for a number of reasons! So today—in addition to sharing my top tips for how to teach kids about healthy eating—I want to tell you about Revolution Foods and the new family style meal program I saw them kick off last week in Boston.
About Revolution Foods’ Family Style Meal Program
I have covered Revolution Foods before, but in a nutshell, they are an awesome organization that’s committed to transforming citywide wellness by making great tasting, kid-inspired, chef-crafted foods accessible to all. And they believe that proper nutrition and healthy food can drive positive health and academic outcomes and that belief is backed up by science (yay, science!). Revolution Foods uses clean label and real food ingredients including fresh local produce, high quality proteins, rBST-free dairy products, and no artificial flavors or colors. They deliver 2 million healthy, freshly prepared, delicious meals per week to schools and community sites nationwide, including early childhood education centers, districts, charter schools, and community & afterschool youth programs. And actually, Laurel did the Walk For Hunger in Boston earlier this month and she said that Revolution Foods provided lunch for participants! #highfive
Last week I had the opportunity to see the Revolution Foods family style meal launch at Blackstone Elementary School in Boston and it was so fantastic to see the passion of Revolution Foods CEO and co-founder Kristin Richmond, Regional Chef Dominick Hayman, and other team members in action. Revolution Foods started this program because they believe that family style meals offer the benefits of: 1) aroma (smelling menu items as you go down the line), 2) presentation (the ability for kids to better see, choose and engage with their food), 3) engagement (student and staff interaction better mirrors what happens at home or at a restaurant), and 4) adaptability (Revolution Foods works with any facility, even the most constrained, to deliver this platform to students). And in just 4 weeks since launching at Blackstone Elementary, they have seen a 12 percent increase in lunch participation. HOORAY FOR WELL NOURISHED KIDS!
One fun thing about this event was that all the attendees, parents, kids and administrators alike got to sample Revolution Foods’ lunch, and can I just say that the food was about 6,273% better than the school lunches of my youth? The jerk chicken drumsticks with pineapple and carrot rice was delicious, as were the pupusas. I could have eaten a dozen of them but, well, I wanted to leave some for the children.
So great, right? This approach is totally relevant to my thoughts on how to teach kids about healthy eating, and here’s why:
How To Teach Kids About Healthy Eating
1. Let kids choose
One of the biggest truths in parenting is the power of letting kids choose. Kids are small, but they want to be the boss of things. And one of the great things about family style meals is that they give kids autonomy and help them figure out portion size. We actually always serve meals family style in my house; a large part of that is because I do most of the cooking and that’s how my family of 9 always ate growing up! Also, family style meals at home are a good thing because they naturally model the need to wait your turn, and gives you the chance to reinforce “please” and “thank you” type behavior as plates go around.
2. Let kids cook
I get asked ALL THE TIME how my kids are such skilled cooks and bakers, and the answer is simple: I let them cook! The impetus for this was actually somewhat survivalist because I have never been great at playing on the floor with Laurel and Violet. Instead, cooking and baking is our thing and it’s awesome. Without having to push it, they are learning about what goes in their foods and what is healthy vs. a treat.
3. Present colorful food
Listen, even though kids complain about vegetables, hello, they also love colorful things. Do whatever you can to get away from monochromatic meals (I’m looking at you, mac and cheese with a side of roll). For us, it’s as simple as tossing a bunch of easy veggies (cucumbers, snap peas, carrots) on a cutting board alongside the main meal.
4. Keep trying
Gentle persistence is everything when it comes to food. One of the best food parenting lessons I picked up early on was that your job is to present healthy options to your kids, not force them down their throat! Laurel and Violet both used to be typical “white food only” eaters, and now Laurel eats everything (and was a vegetarian for 5 years!) and Violet (now 8 years old) now tries more vegetables and other types of foods. We just keep offering it up!
5. Get out of family food ruts
Family food ruts are totally understandable, but also contribute to lack of experimentation. Look through your cookbooks and try something different. Ask your friends about favorite family recipes. Go to a farmer’s market and commit to buying a new vegetable to cook with.
6. Give high fives for food exploration!
I am so not into the model of praising kids for everyday things they ought to be doing (and yes, I also don’t believe in medals for everyone) but I am definitely pro high fives when Violet tries a new food. She now routinely will at least try a small bite if there’s something new on the table; sometimes she doesn’t like it, but sometimes she does, and I want to continue positively reinforcing her moments of exploration!
7. Model food exploration
Well, so, are YOU a picky eater? Do you refuse to eat vegetables but expect your kids to eat them? This isn’t uncommon but the reality is, it’s hard to ask kids to be open and adventurous if we’re not doing the same thing. Explore together!
Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial collaboration with Revolution Foods. All opinions about how to teach kids about healthy eating are, of course, my own!