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5 Fun ways to turn meal time into a nutrition lesson

Founder of Nutritious Life (a private nutrition practice in NYC), author of 4 books, Womens Health Mag contributor, tv personality, mom, list maker, & lover of all things green.

Teach your kids about nutrition with some of these fun lessons

Meal time is the perfect opportunity to teach kids about nutrition. Here are some fun ways to do it!

1. Dinner time is game time

No, I am not suggesting turning on the football game and pulling out those chips and dip for dinner. I'm sure you've heard how important it is to get in a variety of nutrients from different food groups in your meals (lean protein, milk/milk substitutes and yogurt, vegetables, fruit, high fiber starchy foods, healthy fat). Grilled salmon, spinach and sweet potato may be easy to identify: protein, veggie and starch. Sometimes, however, certain meals are tricky to identify. Serving vegetable lasagna, for example, includes a variety of foods not as easily identifiable. Make a game out of the meal and let it start a healthy discussion about food while challenging your family to include a balanced meal on their plates!

2. Veggies, it’s a family affair

Fall in love with vegetables. I know, easier said than done, especially for your kids. You may know that vegetables provide lots of necessary minerals and vitamins that power up your kids' bodies and provide them the ability to utilize energy to grow big and strong. But this doesn't mean that they'll care about this when you tell them to eat them. Turn the tables and get your kids involved in the telling by having them pick out two or three veggies next time you're grocery shopping. They will be excited to try out "their" veggie next time it's meal time. Depending upon their age you can even challenge them to tell the fam why "their" veggie is good for everyone.

3. They build, they eat, they learn?

If they build it, they will eat it. Take a tip from the booming frozen yogurt self-service bars. Who doesn't love to be their own artisan? Your family is no different. If you aren't already hosting a Taco Tuesday night in your home you should be. Nothing gets your family members on board more than loading up their dishes with a sprinkle of this and a dash of that. Add variety with different types of ethnic food "bars." Setting up different meals throughout the week gives your family the opportunity to consume a greater range of nutrients. My faves are: quinoa or bulgur bowls, oatmeal, chili, egg scrambles or healthy charcuterie or deli. My biggest hint here is to be a little unconventional. Offer sweet and savory toppings (you'll see that kids will want to try nut butter in their oatmeal and lemon in their soup).

4. Break the rules!

Deviate from the traditional. In Korea they eat eggs on their rice for dinner. When I was in grad school and newly married, we had PB&J night at least once a week. Thinking outside the box gives your body the right to tell you what it needs. Listening to your body to figure out what its telling you will keep you fueled properly. Gone are the days of meat and potatoes at the American table every night. Embrace it. Don't feel bad about making foods that work for your family needs, even if they're not what you grew up with.

5. Model, model, model

Until your kids are teens, you are their role model (then you get to turn that honor over to Taylor Swift and Tom Brady). Kids love to watch parents and mimic their behaviors. A friend of mine told me that because her son always sees her eating salad he always asks for a leaf. Even though he takes one bite and leaves the rest he is learning to try foods he would probably otherwise not try. Reaching for that piece of broccoli to add to your plate, rather than just telling the kids to, encourages them to do the same. You need to show them that you eat a variety of foods, that you try new things and what it looks like to taste something you didn't think you liked. Sometimes it's helpful to think about food as analogous to life: We want our kids to be open-minded and nonjudgmental. Make sure you are showing this attitude toward food, just as you to do toward other, seemingly more important topics.

Disclosure: This post is part of a collaboration between DairyPure and SheKnows

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