By Lori Stansberry, Founder of Pure Sprouts
Often I go into schools and talk about the importance of eating healthy and what it means to be organic. I have this little exercise I do with kids that challenges them to connect the food source with the finished product (such as milk to a cow, ketchup to tomatoes, French fries to potatoes, etc.). It is always amazing how hard it is for most children to think this way because there is such a disconnect in our current food system between source and purchased products. It’s not necessarily a lack of caring, but it’s a lack of exposure to processes both on the farm and in the factory.
Why kids are more susceptible
Children need nutrients to grow. For the first eight years of a child’s life, their bodies develop at a very fast rate. An assortment of healthy foods that encompasses all nutrients (protein, vitamins, minerals) will allow a child’s body to grow physically and mentally to its fullest ability. Children, with their smaller size, rapid growth rate and speedy metabolisms, are primed to take in a ton of nutrients from the food they eat, but they are also more vulnerable than adults to developmental damage from chemicals.
Research shows that children get four times more exposure to pesticides in their foods than adults, and developing organs are more susceptible to damage from toxins because they absorb them more easily. But current regulations of acceptable pesticide residues allowed in conventional, non-organic foods are based on standards developed for adults, not children.
Removing “processed” from our food choices
A big part of diminishing the amount of harmful chemicals in kids’ diets is limiting processed foods. Ingredients found in processed foods are believed to increase incidences of behavioral disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If we teach our kids to eat processed foods in moderation and mainly eat a variety of foods that come from the earth, we’ve already come a long way in getting our kids to eat healthy.
Here are some tips for helping kids pay attention to their food choices:
Work on removing food coloring, preservatives and artificial sweeteners from your family’s diet. If your child thinks those colored foods taste better, play games like blindfolded tastings. Kids love the games and they’ll get the point that the coloring provides no flavor. It’s important to also explain why they aren’t healthy for them.
Practice what you preach. Kids are always watching you. If you eat healthy, chances are they will eat healthy, too.
Grow a garden. There is no better way to teach a child where food comes from than to grow it yourself! Kids love digging in dirt. They’ll be excited to eat what they grow. Plant new kinds of vegetables and fruits to encourage eating a variety of food. If you have excess from your garden, learn new techniques for cooking or storing. It’s a fun activity for the whole family.
Visit a farm. Farmers are so knowledgeable and love talking about what they do. Schedule a farm visit and let the kids ask questions.
Get them in the kitchen with you. Kids any age can help in the kitchen! Know your child’s limits, provide support and encouragement and teach them how to cook. Kids love to eat what they create. And as they cook, they will learn. As children grow up and spend more time with their peers, it’s especially important for them to understand how to make healthy food choices on their own.
Create a “try it” bowl at dinner time. In our family everyone has to try the new food we make. Everyone then voices their opinion without using negative words. We all learn to describe how foods taste without passing judgment right away. It helps the kids remember flavors and sensations instead of “I didn’t like that” when they think of a food, making them more likely to try it again.
Cook with one new healthy ingredient a week.
Create a new fruit and veggie chart for the year. Each time the family cooks with something new it goes on the chart. See if you can fill up 100 spaces in a year.
Make smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to get your daily servings of fruits of vegetables and it makes it easy to incorporate foods that the kids don’t love.
Make one meal that everyone eats. On average, it takes more than 10 attempts to win the “just try it” war with kids. Always put something kids like on their plate, then add something new. If they don’t try it, it’s ok. Keep trying and eventually they’ll surprise you.
Buy organic as often as you can, especially fruits. These items are heavily sprayed with pesticides known to be harmful to children.
Incorporate fruits and vegetables in all meals and by the end of the day, your child very well could have had 6 servings of fruit/vegetables!
• Breakfast can be yogurt with berries and granola, oatmeal with bananas, eggs with orange slices, or a vegetable omelet.
• Lunch can be a tuna and avocado wrap, grilled cheese with tomato, a salad wrap, or mac and cheese with broccoli mixed in.
• After school snack can be raisins, apples and cheese, or baby carrots and single-serve guacamole or hummus cups.
• Baby spinach leaves are easy to throw into soups or even Ramen noodles.
• Kale is easy to add to a turkey and cheese sandwich.
• Pureed veggies (like carrots) disappear in pasta sauce.
The bottom line? Healthy eating habits are learned and it’s never too late to start. It’s one of the most important lessons you can teach your children and these habits will stick with them into adulthood.
Lori Stansberry started Pure Sprouts, an online organic and local grocery delivery service, in January 2009 after a growing concern about the future of local farms and a desire to change the current food system. She knew that because the Lehigh Valley is so fruitful, it would be the perfect location for an organic delivery service that supplies local foods whenever possible. She also knew that people are sometimes so busy that they lose the opportunity to get to the grocery store for fresh foods. So by marrying fresh, local and organic foods with the convenience of home delivery, Pure Sprouts was born. Every day, Lori fields inquiries from customers seeking more knowledge on the topic of buying organic or buying local. Lori is an expert not only because she owns a thriving organic business, but she also has the credentials to back it up, with a bachelor of science in marine science from Rider University and a master’s degree in environmental chemistry from University of Maryland. Visit Pure Sprouts at www.puresprouts.com.