This month's lessons are all about nutrition! They will be released throughout February in order:
Intro to Nutrition and the Difficulties Studying Nutrition
Making Food Choices
A Quick Note About Eating Disorders
Because I have a close family member with an eating disorder, I try to be very careful when discussing nutrition, especially when talking about making good choices. I emphasize that there is no good evidence for giving up entire food groups and that we need all the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs, water) for survival. If you are concerned for an eating disorder in your family, we found this to be the single most helpful resource. Don't ever hesitate to reach out for help from organizations in your community.
Parts of Plants
As you prepare and eat meals with your family, you can discuss
What part of the plant is this from?
What was the original function of that part of the plant?
What nutrients are provided by this food and does it make sense given the original function of that part of the plant?
Reading Food Labels
Food labels are available on all packaged foods. For fresh food, you can use this page from the FDA or look up individual items online.
I like to focus on protein and sugar when looking at food labels with my kids because there are lots of surprises and that makes it fun to read food labels.
It can be surprising how many foods contain protein. It's a myth that you need to eat animal products to get enough protein.
There are added sugars in so many foods you'd never expect to have added sugars...and many fresh fruits and vegetables have plenty of sugar too. It's a great opportunity to discuss the difference between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars. Kids will often think natural sugar is better. In reality, a whole piece of fruit or other whole food will release the sugars slowly over time with lots of other nutrients. Honey or other natural sugars can be a problem for your body just like any other sugar. Remember, a long time ago honey was hard to get and used sparingly.
Fun Ways to Eat Vegetables and Fruits
Try making a "rainbow meal"--the more colors on your plate, the more different nutrients you're eating! Can you think of fruits or vegetables in every color?
Dipping and topping can both be more fun than just eating. Dip vegetables and fruits in yogurt or spread apple "donuts" (slices cut horizontally through an apple) with peanut butter and top with raisins (we've been known to use sprinkles instead for special occasions...)
Create a food bar. Our family loves taco bars, baked potato bars, salad bars, etc. There's a myth that eating that way is unhealthy...it's all in what the choices are! Our taco bars include whole wheat tortillas, black beans, tomatoes, avocadoes, and ground turkey. Our bake potato bars have to have steamed broccoli and hard boiled eggs or everyone is sad! I used to think it was more work to prepare food this way, but now I have a list of everything that goes in one and find it less work--everyone helps prep ingredients and does their own assembly.
Talk About What That Food Lets You Do
Growing up, my mom said we had to have calcium, for strong bones and teeth, in every meal. Every time she heard about someone we knew breaking a bone, she'd be sympathetic towards them and then say, "I'm so glad you get calcium in every meal for strong bones and teeth!" We became masters at finding sources of calcium.
We were also required to have protein in every meal "because you're growing so your muscles need protein to grow." That lead me to look up the protein content of everything I liked to eat. This was when I first started eating a baked potato with steamed broccoli, a serving of grated cheese, and chopped hard boiled egg. It contained enough calcium and protein to make my mom happy and it was a baked potato, which made me happy!
My kids also hear about "iron for your blood to carry oxygen and let you dance/run/play" and "healthy fat for hormones to let your heart and cells do their jobs." I feel an extra responsibility since this is my job...I usually don't start teaching (and my kids will stop me if I do!) but I'll often mention as we're eating, "the tomatoes in this spaghetti sauce mean we won't get scurvy" or "these are dark green, they'll help us clot our blood!"
Enjoy learning about nutrition this month!