From the Mouths of Babes: What Kids Really Want to Know About Nutrition
From the Mouths of Babes: What Kids Really Want to Know About Nutrition

I’ve always enjoyed taking to kids about nutrition. Whether working with them one-on-one, spending time with them at birthday parties or hanging out at home with my own two boys, I keep the dialog positive and try to speak in their language. I’ve always tried to encourage healthy eating without preaching, without judgment, and without focusing too much on ‘health.’

Since both of my sons were in kindergarten, I’ve enjoyed going to their classrooms as part of the American Dietetic Association’s National Nutrition Month (NNM) in March. This year, instead of going in with my own agenda, I asked the teacher to ask the children to write up their nutrition questions. Some were extremely thoughtful, and some made me chuckle. Here are a few that I particularly enjoyed:

What food group are Energy Drinks in?

Should you have unlimited fruits?

Is an avocado a fruit or vegetable?

How many times a day or week should you have sweets?

What’s better for you—tuna or sardines?

What food group is chocolate in?

Is it good to have eggs for breakfast?

During the 45 minute session, we discussed several of the questions. I also gave out plenty of swag (including flying discs, water bottles and jump ropes) as well as a handout of all their questions with my responses

Since the visit, several parents have approached me or sent emails to say how much their children learned and how they’re eating better at home. I say this not to brag, but to illustrate what I feel are the 3 keys to getting health-promoting and empowering messages about food, nutrition, and health across to children:

  • Treat them with respect;
  • Speak with (and not at) them using age-appropriate language; and
  • Relate food/nutrition/health information to what they care about most (e.g. being a better student or athlete, or simply having more energy).

Whether you’re a health educator, parent, or work with children in any capacity, taking a positive approach like this can turn kids on and empower them to make better, more mindful food choices. I can tell you from having a teenager, that this becomes increasingly important as kids get older and make more and more food-related decisions on their own. Now if only I could encourage my older son to NOT buy that jumbo chocolate chip cookie when he goes to the deli after school…..

Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN is the founder/president of Zied Health Communications, LLC. She's a regular contributor for MSNBC.com, GALTime.com, and CalorieCount.com and an Advisory Board member for Parents magazine and parents.com. She's the author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips (Alpha, 2009) as well as Feed Your Family Right! (Wiley, 2007) and So What Can I Eat?! (Wiley, 2006), co-authored with Ruth Winter, MS. A past American Dietetic Association spokesperson, Elisa is frequently quoted in publications including People, Prevention, Self, Health, Fitness, Parenting, Real Simple, Glamour, and USA Today. She has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show, The Today Show and on dozens of other programs. Elisa received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Visit her at ElisaZied.com.