USDA takes a stab at making nutrition fun

We all know that a healthy diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, but how well do we communicate that to our kids?

Kids eating healthy

With childhood obesity garnering lots of media attention these days, everyone seems to be on the bandwagon to get our kids to eat a healthy, balanced diet. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has developed a new program to try and make healthy eating appealing to kids.

Encouraging your kids to eat a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, can be difficult — especially those picky eaters. But by starting young and modeling healthy eating habits at home, your kids are more likely to try new things. The USDA has created three sets of free curriculum materials for use in your child’s classroom through the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). The curriculum aims to teach them about where their food comes from and expose them to the tastes and textures from the garden.

Picky preschoolers?

Start teaching your kids about nutrition when they are young, and they are more likely to continue healthy eating patterns into their teens and beyond. Preschoolers are notorious for being picky about their food, especially the different textures.

"Preschoolers are encouraged to “play” with their food using their senses of touch, smell and taste. "

For the younger crowd, FNS has updated their program called Grow It! Try It! Like It!: Preschool Fun with Fruits and Vegetables, which links activities your child’s daycare provider or child care center can use with resources you can all use at home.

Since food choices for preschoolers are usually made by their families and adult care givers, the lessons for little ones focus on encouraging children to keep trying new fruits and vegetables again and again. The more a child tries a new food, the more likely she will be to eventually like it. Preschoolers are encouraged to “play” with their food using their senses of touch, smell and taste. Another important lesson at this age is to learn about where fruits and vegetables come from. By learning about plants and the different growing conditions they require, this program helps little ones connect the food at the table to the plant it came from.

Good eats for grade-schoolers

Insisting that your older child maintain a balanced diet gets harder as they enter their school years. “This time is when kids first go to school and have a little bit more choice in what they eat, especially if they’re getting it in the cafeteria themselves,” says Jennifer Shu, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Group in Atlanta and co-author of the book Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insights, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup.

"These older kids will have the chance to discover what fruits and vegetables are sweetest, crunchiest and juiciest."

The curriculum for teaching older kids (third and fourth graders) to make good food choices is called The Great Garden Detective Adventure. This set includes 11 lessons, complete with materials to create a bulletin board, fruit and vegetable flash cards, and a newsletter for students to share with parents called Garden Detective News. Using investigations and other fun methods, these older kids will have the chance to discover what fruits and vegetables are sweetest, crunchiest and juiciest. As in the curriculum for the preschoolers, there is a focus on connecting foods from the garden to the school cafeteria and home.

Nutrition curriculum

The third curriculum set is tailored toward the fifth and sixth grades, and is called Dig In! This supplemental unit has 10 question-based lessons, a gardening guide, booklets to share with parents at home and colorful posters that encourage fruits and vegetables as healthy food choices. Both Garden Detective and Dig In! lessons have been structured to meet the education standards in one or more of the following subjects: Science (National Academy of Sciences), English Language Arts (Common Core State Standards Initiative), Math (Common Core State Standards Initiative) and Health (American Cancer Society).

All of these great materials are currently available online to be accessed and downloaded from the Team Nutrition website.

More on eating healthy

6 Healthy eating myths — debunked
How eating organic improves your child's health
3 Ways to encourage healthy choices at the breakfast table


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