Updated: May 24
The other day I had the honor of talking to a group of kids at the local day camp about health, nutrition, and exercise and how they all are interconnected.
The kids ranged in age from 7-10 years old and were a lot of fun to work with. I was impressed with how much they already knew about nutrition, what macros are, and that across the board, they all understand that excess sugar is not good for you.
We did some exercises and talked about macros, gave high fives, and called it a day. Everyone got some swag from our local gym, Ridgewell Fitness, and a day pass for their parents.
I left feeling pretty good about teaching the youth of our community a little something that may help them with life-long health.
Now, the very next day I was running on the local trail system and came across one of the kids from camp that I spoke with and was very interested in health and fitness.
I met his mom who said that he came home from camp and was all excited saying that the most amazing trainer in the whole wide world (me...) told him that he should be eating more MEAT! That he wanted meat for dinner and wanted to get strong.
I told the mom that we did in fact talk about all the macros and that there are loads of plant-based proteins that are just as good for you as meat only without the dangerous side effects of heart disease and cancer and that it's better for the planet at large.
No joke, later that evening I came across another kid from camp in town and I got to talk with her and her mom I asked: "What did you learn from our workout and nutrition lesson?"
She thought for a while, shrugged, and said "I don't know, maybe we should be eating more vegetables?"
I said yes and pushed a little further and asked "Do you remember how big a serving size is?"
She spread her arms wide. I said "Almost! It's actually the size of your fist." She held up her little fist and looked at me.
"And how many servings of fruits and veggies should we be eating daily?"
She shrugged again "Six?"
I said "Close! nine to thirteen servings of fruits and veggies a day."I congratulated her, exchanged some pleasantries with the mom, and moved on.
These two chance encounters with the kids from camp taught me three things:
Kids learn in all different ways, and as a dyslexic myself, I understand this better than most. So, I need to find a way to get this information out there in as many different ways as possible to as many kids as I can with the hope and prayer that some of it sticks.
Since everyone learns differently, we can't control for what their takeaway will be in just one conversation. This information needs to be shared regularly and in many different ways. For example, cooking with a parent, talking about the food you are eating at dinner, growing food in a garden, listening to podcasts and online stories, watching educational cartoons, playing games, and learning school. Over time, this information will be as simple and obvious, like when the sun rises, it gets light out.
Finally, since the bulk of kids' nutritional education comes from the home, parents need to model good nutrition habits. This means parents should be eating 9-13 servings of fruits and veggies every day, stocking healthy snacks in the house, and reducing sugar intake. By having a healthy household, kids will grow into adults who feel that it's normal to eat whole, healthy food.
How to Model Healthy Habits for Your Kids
Plant a Garden. Planting a garden and growing food with your children helps them build a strong foundational knowledge about where food comes from and how eating fruits and veggies is so naturally good for you. If you don't have outdoor space to grow a garden, you can plant one indoors! Click here for tips on what to grow. Alternatively, you can also visit farms and pick seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Cook together! This helps teach children what they are eating and how whole foods are prepared. That is the real-life knowledge that will have the biggest impact on their long-term health and wellness. Try having every family member cook one meal a week, and help your kids by creating an ingredient list, shopping together, and then setting them up with a child-friendly workspace and equipment that is age-appropriate.
Verbalize the benefits of different food. Kids seem to have strong listening skills when it comes to superpowers, so why not explain the superpowers associated with different foods? I love this chart below from Kids Eat in Color that helps kids (and parents!) understand how different colored foods help our bodies and also how to talk about it.
If you are reading this and feeling any sort of anxiety about not getting enough fruits and vegetables in your lives, don't despair! It's never too late to begin, and our bodies are more resilient than you think (especially little ones).
You don't have to change everything all at once. Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint. Start with a small change and stick with it, like adding spinach to your morning smoothie or committing to getting something green on your plate at dinner. Try replacing one unhealthy snack a day with a piece of fruit. Or instead of drinking soda, swap it for flavored carbonated water. Any small change you make will be a step in the right direction and your kids will see you making these moves to be a better version of yourself (you can even share about it with them). The best you.
Making changes and sticking to them is the crux for most of us when making a healthy change. So that is why the bulk of the work that I do with my coaching clients is habit-focused. By identifying what habits are not serving your health and fitness goals, you can then deal with them.
Comment below and let me know what one small change you plan to make!
By Nolan Palmer-Smith