The choices we make about the food we eat every day can have a big impact on our health, as well as our environment and economy. BVSD’s School Food Project is working to teach our students and parents about the connection our food has on the bigger picture and encouraging them to choose food that is good for all three.
This concept is particularly important to prepare children for when they have more control over what they eat and have responsibility for the choices they make. Tweens and teens, for instance, tend to favor convenience, taste, cost and peer influence when deciding what to eat. So, how can you help them improve their food literacy and make the connection between healthy foods and a healthy life?
- Model healthy eating at family dinners and involve kids in cooking and shopping for healthy foods.
- Make healthy eating convenient by having nutritious food on hand. Even better, have it prepared for quick grab-and-go situations. (A sliced watermelon is much more likely to be consumed than a whole one in the fridge.)
- Talk to kids about why they want to be healthy. Maybe they are looking forward to an upcoming school trip or perhaps they have an important sports team tryout on the calendar.
- Help your kids be mindful about how they feel when they eat healthy foods (energized) vs. unhealthy (dragging).
- Teach your child to notice why they are eating: am I hungry, bored, stressed, tired, upset?
- Talk about why fast food might be appealing - it’s easy, it’s engineered to taste good - but contains low-quality ingredients meant to increase corporate profits rather than health. You wouldn’t purchase gas for your car that made it sluggish and perform poorly, so why would you do that with food?
- Observe the amount of packaging involved with processed foods and what impact that may have on the environment.
- Point out local farms to your kids as you drive around town and discuss why it is important to support local farms.
Choosing healthy food isn’t just about the calories
A lot of people look simply at the calorie count when deciding which foods to eat, but it is important to know that you may not be getting the whole story.
A calorie is a unit that we use to measure the amount of energy different foods give our bodies. Understanding this concept is so important because while it is important for us to pay attention to the amount of calories (energy) we are consuming, it’s just as important to make sure those calories are coming from foods that provide us with adequate amounts of fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. Yes, if you are trying to lose a few pounds, then cutting back on calories is a good place to start. But what about all of the other macro and micronutrients that food offers along with those calories? Those are just as important!
Many nutrition professionals break up food into two categories – calorie dense vs. nutrient dense, and some foods can be both. Calorie-dense foods are typically foods like soda, candy and cake that provide a lot of calories, but not many nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods, on the other hand, provide us with fewer calories but give us tons of nutrients. Those foods include fruits, vegetables, lean meat, dairy and whole grains.
To make sure the food you're eating is packed with all the nutrients you need, here are some easy-to-remember rules of thumb:
- Load up on fruits and veggies – They provide tons of the vitamins and minerals we need, so try and incorporate those into every meal!
- Look at the nutrition label – If something is providing you with 350 calories but is lacking in all other nutrients, maybe that’s not the best choice.
- Nuts and seeds are a great example of foods that are high in calories, but are also nutritionally dense, meaning they pack a big punch when it comes to nutrients!