Don’t get me wrong. I love celebrations, food, and even some jelly beans around Easter time. Too often, however, parents find that holidays can become a slippery slope of high sugar consumption, roller coaster blood sugar levels, and tantrums. Then the cycle inevitably repeats. For the last decade, I’ve been on a mission to help parents and teachers educate and inspire young children to make good choices around food. Here is my advice distilled down to three simple tips.
Tip #1: Teach kids where their food comes from. Kids are instinctively fascinated with everything related to Mother Earth, and they especially love to learn that farms and plants are our healthy food sources. Most kids can quickly identify a strawberry, but can they tell what a strawberry plant looks like before it bears fruit? In my experience working with tens of thousands of children nationwide, kids who know how to identify the plant are exponentially more likely to eat the fruit or veggie that comes from it. So this tip involves getting out some photos of plants or taking a trip to a farm or edible garden where kids can interact with sources of healthy food.
Tip #2: Set up a garden and help your children grow food. My work has taken me to the lowest-income neighborhoods of the largest cities, and there are still ways to use your creativity to connect children and gardening. A potted herb garden only needs a little space on a counter facing a window to grow. Children love to play with soil and seeds, and the process of germination and growth teach patience and appreciation of the beauty of nature. Larger-scale endeavors involve planting a large garden, getting involved in community gardening, or simply visiting a farm. Involve your child in choosing seed packets or young plants to bring home. Encourage your child to engage all of the senses in appreciating edible plants. An herb garden named by your child (place a stick in the ground and mark it as so) will increase the likelihood of seeing goodies such as parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and mint being used to cook meals.
Tip #3: Enlist an objective outside influence to encourage your child to explore healthy eating options. I have seen miracles happen to so-called “picky eaters” when the pressure was removed by a parent. Your outside influence can come in the form of a healthy cooking class with other children, nutrition education from a teacher, or even reading fun books with a healthy message. When my first book about eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies (Give It a Go, Eat a Rainbow, Healthy Solutions of Sun Valley, 2016) came out, the main character, Blake, became an outside influence for kids. They downloaded their very own Blake, colored and customized Blake to be the gender and have the skin color and fashion-sense that the child identified with, and brought their Blake for encouragement to try new healthy foods at snack and mealtimes. Every once in a while, a child would want to include Skittles and Starbursts as part of their Blake endorsed snack (since Blake is all about eating a rainbow). So we created a new character named Sammy the Bunny who insists that a healthy rainbow must come from Mother Earth. Sammy is featured in our new book, Where Does a Rainbow Grow? and encourages kids to learn more about healthy food sources, farm-to-table-concepts, and edible plant identification.
The point is to have fun with food. If you are a parent struggling with your child about eating healthy foods, get out of your own way and enlist the help of outside positive influences to end the tension around food and mealtimes once and for all.
Go ahead and enjoy some Easter candy. Then remember that Easter means spring, fresh soil for planting, and renewal. Get outside and connect as a family with the bounty of Mother Earth and enjoy fresh, whole foods. Before you know it, those roller coaster blood sugar rides will have evened out to the peace and calm of a smooth ride.