One of the main topics during the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference (SNA ANC) is likely to be how to get kids to eat their fruits, vegetables and whole grains. While this is not a new discussion, it is one that has come to the forefront with the new guidelines in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
New foods can be difficult, especially for kids who have ever-changing palates and may not have been exposed to some of the offerings now available at school. Many school foodservice programs are reporting a frustration in meeting the new guidelines, an increase in labor due to the new requirements and a decrease in moral, as children throw away many of the "new" foods employees have spent extra time preparing. But there are things that can be done both in the cafeteria and classroom that will encourage kids to expand their healthy eating choices.
Most children have an innate desire to learn. As a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or educator have you been asked "why"? Children want to learn about the world around them and with providing them an opportunity to learn about nutrition can increase the likelihood they will be open to change or try new food options. Encourage staff, teachers and foodservice professionals to explain what lean protein does for the body and brain; why fruits and vegetables are essential to a balanced diet; and the difference between fats. Ask the teachers to take the time to explore good nutrition as part of their overall learning curriculum to reinforce what the children are experiencing in the cafeteria.
Children enjoy the ability to use their voice to be able to make independent choices. This is an important part of their development. By giving the control to kids to make healthy choice options as part of their overall meal they are more likely to eat the choice they have made and give them confidence and a higher self-esteem. Even the simplest of choices can make a world of difference when encouraging kids to eat breakfast or lunch. Encourage staff to say, "Which fruit would you like with your lunch?" followed by positive reinforcement like "Oh, what a great choice you are making!"
Try, Try again
Experts in the field of nutrition will tell you that it can take up to thirteen times of trying a new food before someone will accept it1. Encouraging kids to at least try something may seem like a daunting task, but it can and will pay off in the future. Also, putting healthier options where they are easily accessible to the students can increase the likelihood they will purchase. When a salad bar was moved right by the register instead of behind the service area, sales increased 300%2.
Make them the teacher
Giving kids the tools and education to make healthy choices and answer the "why" question is a great start. But encouraging them to share their newly found expertise will further foster positive reinforcement of these decisions. A great way to encourage students to share their knowledge both at school and at home, is to ask their peers to explain why they chose something different than what is on their plate/tray and how they feel about it.
With a little perseverance, knowledge and a few tricks, getting kids to eat their fruits, veggies and whole grains can be a little less daunting.