Megan Monday Goes Into Teacher Megan Mode – Some Awesome Books, Games, and Learning Ideas to Teach About Nutrition and Healthy Habits
I’m going to switch gears from my usual teachings and lectures about topics that probably make you want to crawl under a rock and hide from everything that exists (just kidding) and take a walk down memory lane from my teaching days (while they were not so long ago). I loved researching great books to use in the classroom to teach or expand upon a topic. Kids could interact with books and each other while reading them; they could explore the meaning behind them and engage in fun activities that branched off of the main topic. Best of all, it was a different way to expose children to not only love literature, but to help them integrate important topics and lessons about life other than sitting in a desk and feel like they were held captive under a lecturing spell. Books and fun activities allow kids to come alive. Even as an adult in my nutrition and health studies, I read countless books on every subject imaginable – and I got lost in each one, thinking of great things I could do with everything I was learning.
With the start of school already in full swing for some and the first day of school nipping at everyone else’s feet, I figured what better time to share some of my great book finds to read with kids to bolster their love and understanding about healthy eating and living? There are also some fun activities and games you can play at home to include children in learning about making healthy choices rather than receiving a discerning look or being told, “You have to eat that because it’s healthy and I told you so!” It’s so much more rewarding to see kids “get it” through their own exploration and fun.
- “Eat Lots of Colors! A Colorful Look at Healthy Nutrition for Children” by Helen Marstiller. In this quick read, I love the vibrant colors and illustrations, in addition to the quirky rhymes that give it an upbeat rhythm. Not only will your kids learn about healthy food choices (arranged by color and why they are healthy), but they will firm-up their colors knowledge, learn some new savvy vocabulary, and gain an appreciation for rhymes, poetry, and creative writing. The book even comes with a handy chart organized by day of the week and color to help kids track as many healthy “color” fruits and veggies they can eat daily and weekly. (You can make photocopies of this section to use over time.) Ages – appropriate for all ages, while most suitable for younger ages and grades (however, I learned as a teacher, you can teach some poignant lessons to older kids using even the easiest picture books). Learn more at: www.eatlotsofcolors.com
- “The Monster Health Book – A Guide to Eating Healthy, Being Active, & Feeling Great for Monsters & Kids!” by Edward Miller. This book is awesome. It’s alive with color, pictures, charts, diagrams, and the friendly monster character seen throughout. This book geared towards kids in grades 3 and up (while through some crafty re-wording, younger kids would get a real kick out of the pictures and message) breaks everything down in simple, easy-to-understand sections covering everything from serving size, the five food groups (with a section dedicated to each one), nutrients, deciphering food labels, healthy eating habits and smart suggestions for how to eat throughout the day, how being active is important for your health, educating about disease, avoiding unhealthy habits, the food-mood connection, self-esteem, and weight issues, to finally a page dedicated to resourceful webpages kids can research on further. Visit www.edmiller.com to check out the author’s other books.
- “Gregory, the Terrible Eater” by Mitchell Sharmat. This easy read takes readers on an imaginative and creative journey about a goat who does not like to eat healthy (he actually is eating everything in his house!) and the sick ways he feels as a result. By cleaning up his act and diet, Gregory turns things around. Thumbs-up for this super cute story to reach out to kids who may be your typical “challenge” eaters.
- “The Vegetables We Eat” – by Gail Gibbons. This easy, non-fiction read is chock-full of gorgeous illustrations of eight groups of vegetables (categorized by the part of the plant that is eaten) that will make anyone of any age appreciate their beauty. It provides a very visual way for readers to know where food comes from, how it’s harvested, and where you can find healthy choices. It also has a neat section in the back explaining where our most popular crops come from across the globe.
- “Good Enough to Eat – A Kid’s Guide to Food and Nutrition” by Lizzy Rockwell. While this looks like an easy read geared towards younger grades, the content is actually packed with tons of relevant info for all ages. I really love the simple way in which the author breaks down and explains how our bodies use signals to let us know when and why we’re hungry and how eating healthy affects all kinds of body functions. Its illustrations are captivating and brilliant; there is even a section that shows the different parts to digestion and then a section showing how much of each nutrient you should be getting daily (and throws some math/measurement in there, too – always a good thing!). It embeds some really cute and easy “experiments” kids can try to illustrate how certain food systems work. It does an awesome job breaking down the key nutrients in a very visual and easy-to-grasp manner. Bonus – there are two pages dedicated to some yummy, healthy, kid-friendly recipes they can try! I also liked the back page that was dedicated to illustrating the calorie (nutrient)-density of certain foods by showing how much of one thing you could eat that would equal the same amount in calories; it even focused on showing what type and how long of a particular physical activity one would need to do to burn off a certain amount of calories. I really enjoyed reading through this book and find it appealing to kids (and adults)!
- “Eat Healthy, Feel Great!” by Dr. William Sears, Martha Sears, R.N., and Christie Watts Kelly. This book is definitely geared towards younger readers, but written by the acclaimed Dr. Sears, it is very family-focused and can be enjoyed by all under the same roof. It takes the reader from birth to adult age and all of the important nutrients (and the foods that provide them) a growing body needs to thrive. Its text structure is super easy to read, is visually-appealing, and the charismatic illustrations that focus on families is very engaging. I like how it talks about “green light foods” – those being the healthy choices like vegetables and fruits – to be ones you can eat large quantities of. Then it explains foods that should be limited more or completely avoided because they don’t offer anything healthy for your body or can actually be harmful (“yellow light foods” and “red light foods”). It mentions food allergies, unhealthy ingredients that kids should be aware of (and the foods that contain them), how to be a label detective, the importance of staying hydrated and balancing all of your nutrients. There are recipe and craft ideas for kids, and a list of resources in the back for parents and caregivers to check out. My favorite part? A pull-out mini-poster of “red light, yellow light, green light” foods to eat that you can hang anywhere to act as a visual reminder for everyone in the house. Check out more: www.askdrsears.com
Game and Activity Suggestions:
- The Lunch Box Game by Orchard Toys. Ages 3-7. This is a fun, easy, and portable memory game to play that reinforces making healthy selections to fill a lunch box. The game’s educational guide notes that the game reinforces observation skills, developing personal and social skills, and bolstering early learning goals while teaching about making healthy food choices. I say you can also use the picture cards to keep handy and teach about the different foods illustrated, in addition to allow kids to “shop” with the pictures or categorize into similar groups.
- Crunch and Color – The Healthy Eating Game by Tiny Green Bee. Ages 4+. Designed and created by a mom who wanted to make mealtime fun and healthy for her family, this game gives kids points for eating a balanced and colorful plate of veggies, fruits, proteins, and grains. Bonus points are given for good manners and trying new foods. I like how the goal of this game is to not only teach kids about nutritious foods, but to teach them how to choose nutritious foods for themselves. Portion of sales from this game even goes to non-profit children’s nutrition programs. How much cooler can you get?!? The cards are standard playing card size (all recycled materials…score!) and come in colorful designs and pictures. The box is sturdy and easy to transport, making this a great travel game!
- Crunch and Color – Conversation Starters by Tiny Green Bee. Ages 4+. Designed by the same aforementioned awesome mom who created The Healthy Eating Game, this product was created to bring the whole family together at mealtime by inspiring creative thinking and healthy debates. There are 104 conversation starter cards geared with questions ranging from all kinds of topics, not just nutrition (for example: “If a genie appeared and granted you one wish, what would you wish for?” “If you were a vegetable, which one would you be and why?” “What makes food different colors?” “If you could invite a favorite character to dinner, whom would you pick and why?”). What I like about this activity is that it 1) brings everyone together at dinner, no matter what your family structure is 2) it forces everyone to “unplug” and engage with each other…not a piece of technology 3) it sets the precedence that mealtime is not only a time for choosing to eat healthy, but that it’s a time to engage in rich interactions and 4) it keeps everyone engaged in fun, constructive conversation, so the focus may be on a great discussion rather than whether or not the kids like Brussels sprouts (and the battle that can ensue from that point on….). When mealtime is fun and full of great memories, eating can be a positive experience for all rather than a stressful battle.
- Websites – Here is a list of some websites that offer games geared towards healthy eating and lifestyle choices:
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us