It can take a lot of convincing to entice kids to try new and healthy food over a slice of pizza or something fried. So we asked two Detroit teachers, who have experience in this realm from working with students in their schools’ garden programs, for tips to keep your kids thinking about healthy choices – while also having fun! Lisa Stevens teaches at Ross-Hill Academy, a K-8 charter school, and Angela Link teaches at Nichols Elementary-Middle School, part of Detroit Public Schools.
Kids tend to gravitate towards colorful and fragrant foods, says Link. “I would start with some fresh herbs,” she says. “Our students love smelling the cilantro from the garden. It’s a good ingredient to have around.”
What’s in season?
A great way to teach kids is a trip to your local farmers market, says Stevens. Things like tomatoes, zucchini, green beans or sugar snap peas are just a few examples of vegetables that are in-season from May to September – and are easy to grow too!
“One recipe we made with the kids that they loved was dinosaur kale chips,” says Link. “Just put some olive oil on it, cook it in the oven real low, and get it nice and crispy.” Smoothies are also a fun, easy way to get kids eating more fruits and vegetables: “We realized the students didn’t care too much for the green smoothies, so we added carbonated water and they loved that.”
The best way to learn these math skills outside of school is with simple recipes at home. Kids could also practice proportions with their hands, says Link. “Actually have them measure with their hand. So let’s say you want to make half the recipe, how much do you need if the recipe asks for a fourth?”
Trying a new eatery or a different type of cuisine with your kids can help make them more courageous eaters in the future. “If you are willing to go outside of your block, there are a whole bunch of different kinds of restaurants that are available in Detroit,” says Stevens. And if they aren’t interested in trying new foods? “Try bribing them as a motivator!” she says.
It’s important for kids to realize just because they may not like a fruit or veggie one way doesn’t mean they’ll dislike its taste if prepared another way, says Link. “Maybe you add some cinnamon to it, or cilantro, or some other type of herb to it to give it a different flavor – and just trying to get them to realize, it just may taste great if you prepare it differently.”
Balance your plate
MyPlate Kids’ Place is a great resource for parents and kids looking to eat healthier at mealtimes, says Stevens. There are multiple games and activities kids can play to help teach them what a balanced plate looks like, while also getting them excited about eating healthy.
Early exposure to healthy snacks on a daily basis keeps kids thinking about better nutrition, says Link. If the options you keep in your home are healthy, that’s what your kids are going to eat. One simple and fun idea? Yogurt sundaes: Use low- or fat-free yogurt and top it with fresh fruit and a sprinkling of whole-grain cereal.
Check the serving size
When most kids eat a bag of chips or candy, they don’t think about reading labels. “Just because it says it’s an individual-sized bag doesn’t mean it’s necessarily meant for one person,” Stevens says. “If the serving size says more than one, and you still intend to eat this, then you have to share.”
Get in the garden
Many fruits and veggies can be easily grown in a backyard garden or windowsill. If starting small, try a salsa garden, says Stevens. Tomatoes, cilantro and green onions are quick and easy growers – and once they’re ready, you have everything you need to make fresh and delicious salsa together. Herbs like parsley, mint or rosemary are also very easy to grow indoors on your windowsill, Link says.
This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated for 2016.