As parents, we worry about everything our kids do from getting good grades to making friends. Although many parents worry about getting their kids to eat healthier, it at times seems like an uphill battle. Kids today are exposed to fast food and sugary snacks everywhere they turn, which is why now more than ever it is important to help our kids make good food choices.
Spending a few minutes in a school cafeteria can give you great incite into how children make food choices. As a teacher, I have seen kids spend their lunch money on a handful of snacks, skipping the main meal altogether. I have also seen kids make choices based solely on what their friends are choosing. So how can parents help their kids when they are not even there to see what is going on?
I spent a weekend at Cornell University learning about this topic at a presentation by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council. David R. Just, Associate Professor for the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, studies behavioral economics and how it relates to children. With some very simple changes to the school cafeteria, he was able to get children to make healthier choices, without them even realizing what they were doing. According to Just, banning sugary foods makes the foods seem more appealing to children. We need to make healthier foods seem cooler to kids. When kids see thirty cartons of chocolate milk beside five cartons of white milk, children will choose the chocolate because they assume that is what most kids are drinking. By simply putting out equal numbers of chocolate and white milk, the sale of white milk increased.
Other simple changes included placing fruit in a pretty bowl instead of piled in a container. In one study, kids were 102% more likely to take a piece of fruit when it was presented in a nice bowl. Renaming foods gave kids more incentive to choose healthier options as well. Big, Bad Tacos became a popular lunch with the new name. Healthy foods also have to be ultra convenient for kids. Moving the healthier foods closer made the kids choose them more frequently.
It would be great to see these simple changes come to school cafeterias across the country, but they can also be applied to your home. If we want kids to choose healthy snacks and foods then they have to be available and convenient. Move your sugary snacks to a harder to reach cabinet and fill the lower level ones with healthy choices like granola bars, dried fruit and crackers. When fruit is cut up, kids are more likely to eat it, so don’t ask if they’d like an apple. Cut one up and put it in front of them. Give your meals exciting names to get kids into it. Renaming my meal, Super Hero Salad got my kids to eat more greens than any other time I had served it. Get creative with how you present your food to them. Put out red peppers, cucumbers and olives and have the kids create silly faces with them. You might be surprised what they will put in their mouths.
We can’t always be at school to make sure that our kids choose wisely, but there are a few things you can do to help them along. According to Just, kids who pay for their lunches with a prepaid debit system are more likely to choose poorly then the kids who paid in cash. The debit systems that many schools offer are super convenient for parents, but they give kids a feeling of unlimited spending. If you have to use the debit system, talk to your kids about what they are allowed to purchase, otherwise send cash.
It is important to get involved with the choices your kids are making regarding their food. You can ask your school principal to check out David Just’s website, www.smarterlunchrooms.org to help get your school on track.
You can also visit the American Dairy Association’s website at www.adac.com for more information on school nutrition.
Special thanks to the American Dairy Association and Geneva on the Lake for allowing us to be a part of this educational experience. Geneva on the Lake is a beautiful couples resort located on Lake Seneca in Geneva, NY. It is located in New York’s picturesque Finger Lake Region, close to shopping, wineries and a variety of outdoor activities. It is the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
Thanks for Reading,