Imagine this: there’s a birthday celebration in your child’s class at school, and the table is filled with cakes, junk food, and a platter of fresh fruit.
Your child looks at the cake. They look at the junk food. They look at the fruit.
And with a big grin on their face, they choose the fruit.
We all want our kids to make healthy choices about what they eat—especially at school. We are dreaming about the day our child asks for fruit instead of a cookie. The good news: that’s all possible! It’s actually simple to get our children to make healthy choices.
Let’s explore the science of how.
An interesting study recently considered the link between self-control and portion size in children. Given a plate of cookies and told to eat as many as they liked, young test subjects ate 25 percent less when those cookies were cut in half.
Looking at our global obesity epidemic, findings like these are essential, right? But it’s really not enough to simply decrease the quantity of junk food our children eat; ideally they wouldn’t choose any.
But attempts to ban all those crispy bags of hydrogenated oil and trans fat (and bubbly cans of sugar water) have been met with staunch opposition—especially around the United States. Texas went so far as to pass a “Safe Cupcake Amendment” (commonly known as Lauren’s Law), which protects parents’ and family members’ rights to bring whatever they want to school to celebrate their little one’s birthday.
What would happen, though, if we gave children the chance to make their own choices about nutrition, offering them, for example, both sugary sweets and juicy, ripe fruits to eat?
Researchers did just that, and the results were fascinating.
When they added bowls of fresh, sliced fruit to the table at a kindergarten birthday party—without making any particular attempt to push the fruit on the partygoers—on average, every child ate a full serving size of fruit!
In my experience, too, kids are thrilled to have fresh fruit to eat.
At a recent birthday party with my daughter, I promised I’d find her a yummy (and vegan) treat when a sugary, processed cake was served for dessert. When we went to the table and sat in front of the fruit platter, she was delighted. She ate tons of fresh, wholesome fruit, no cake—and she loved it.
No one else had offered their children fruit, so I passed around the platter. Of about 10 kids, only one didn’t take any.
In addition to offering healthy options to children outside their homes (and especially in schools), education is key.
Some schools are starting to offer food education as part of their year-round programming, featuring a “veggie of the month” and spreading nutrition maxims such as, ’‘Fiber equals a happy tummy.’’
These kinds of initiatives work. Young children engage with their food, learn about nutrition, and have fun doing it. And, most importantly, they eat more veggies as a result.
One school even managed to double students’ consumption of veggies just by changing the names. For example, “X-ray Vision Carrots” were twice as appealing to elementary school students, compared to regular carrots or “Veggie of the Day.” Tiny Tasty Tree Tops were more than 100 percent more attractive than broccoli.
This is not rocket science. Offering children healthy food options—combined with trying to make those foods look and sound appealing—will lead to healthier choices.
More schools should be doing this! How about suggesting it at yours?
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Author: Donna Wild
Editor: Sara Kärpänen