Inspiring those “Aha” Moments

In my first job as a nutrition educator in a school setting, I learned quickly that lecturing kids about nutrition and food groups is both boring and ineffective. Instead, my approach to nutrition education quickly involved into one where my goal was to inspire kids to enjoy a variety of healthy foods and learn to be smart consumers. I want kids to become involved in learning by experiencing and discovering nutrition. The goal is to stimulate lots of questions and lively discussions about food choices. I call these “aha” moments.

Below are some examples of experiential activities that I have successfully used  with children over  the years.

Play with your food
Call it “edible art” and let kids have fun shaping, arranging, cutting and sculpting healthy foods into their own personal creations. Because of their vibrant colors, fruits and vegetables make beautiful food art. I know this activity is a success when kids ask, “Is it OK if I eat it?”

Grow something edible
From seed to table, growing vegetables, herbs or fruit inspires kids of all ages. If you don’t have the resources for an outside garden, start with a container filled with organic planting mix and plant easy-to-grow edibles such as basil, radishes or lettuce.

Plan healthy (or healthier) restaurant meals
Challenge kids to find the healthiest food combinations from their favorite restaurants. Using restaurant brochures or online nutrition information, ask kids to design a breakfast or lunch that includes at least four different food groups. For older kids and teens, ask them to calculate levels of sodium, fat and sugar in different meal combinations with the goal of finding healthier choices.

Learn where food comes from
Take kids on field trips or visits to grocery stores, ethnic markets, farmer’s markets, farm direct stores, community gardens, farms, mills, dairies, orchards and any other local resource that teaches children about the “roots” of  their food.

Create a commercial for a healthy food
Studies show that kids are bombarded with ads for unhealthy foods and rarely see commercials that promote health or fitness. Challenge them to design, perform and film a fun and persuasive ad that promotes nutritious foods or positive health behaviors.

Play active food group games
I teach kids about food groups by playing active games.  For example, with the new MyPlate food guide, you can designate the circle in the center of the gym as the “MyPlate.” Before the kids arrive, hide paper food pictures or food models all over the gym. When you blow your whistle, the kids have to scramble, find the food models and then place them in the proper space in the circle. I also play “food group relays” with kids, a fun way to combine food and fitness education.

All of these ideas and many more are included in the 4th edition of my  book, How to Teach Nutrition to Kids.  The book has been used with success in schools, hospitals, scouting programs, 4-H, summer camps, and many other youth-focused initiatives. The companion workbook and activity guide, Nutrition Fun With Brocc & Roll, 2nd edition, includes 42 copy-ready activity sheets.

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