Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fun Ways to Teach Kids About Healthy Eating: Protein & Dairy

Can protein be pleasing? Can dairy be delightful?

Kids often know quite a bit about different foods. After all, they may eat from each food group every day, but when you start throwing around words like protein and dairy, they might have a few more things to learn. But can you make it fun and engaging?

I think so! This interactive learning game can be used in a variety of settings, from a library or classroom to a gym or outdoors with small or large groups. It helps if the kids can read, but if they cannot, you might substitute pictures of the items, empty packages, or even the items themselves (if you don't have anyone with allergies) in place of the printed words below.

You might even have the kids cook some simple foods with protein and dairy, such as heating pinto beans in a crock pot (I'd soak them overnight first) with pudding for dessert. I have found that lots of children may not have heard of certain foods like tofu, so this could be an opportunity to teach about where to find these items at the grocery store and how to incorporate them into the diet.

You might present this information as quickly as ten to fifteen minutes, but you could easily stretch this program to 30 minutes or even an hour if you ask the kids to give examples of legumes they like to eat, graph which dairy item is the favorite for the group, provide a cooking segment with a taste test, etc.

First, I like to hold up two signs, one for dairy and one for protein (printables below - or you may wish to make them into large posters with bright colors). I mention that dairy tends to have lots of calcium for building strong bones while protein is sort of like building blocks for making many parts of the body. I like to select two volunteers, one to hold each sign.

Pass out papers with various protein and dairy items on them (see list and printables below) and give the children the opportunity to place the paper in whichever category he/she thinks it belongs. If they don't think the item fits under either category, they can place the paper in between the two categories. After they have made their choices, this can give you an idea of what they already know. Many kids in my programs already know quite a bit...and it can be so much fun to watch them using critical thinking skills if they are not sure!

Next, hold up each card and ask the group if they agree about where the item should go. You can give tips about making healthy choices throughout this process. You might explain what fat free, no fat, and low fat mean and ask them which type of milk (low-fat or chocolate) would be the healthiest choice.

I also mention food allergies and how some people may need to avoid certain foods such as milk products or particular nuts. If children in the program have allergies, they may be willing to share substitutions they make or what type of allergic symptoms they experience, if time allows.

You might want to focus particularly on the foods/beverages that ended up in the opposite category or in the undecided category if you are short on time. The Department of Agriculture provides a list of health benefits and examples for proteins and dairy and also daily recommended servings based on age.

When I present this information, I follow it with a brief exercise segment. You might want to try my Great Playlist for Kids Exercise – Fun Dancing Songs #2 or my Glowsticks Fun Workout in the Dark Exercise articles for more ideas.

Here are the categories with examples that I chose with printables under each category. Click on each image to enlarge and then select File - Print (Please note that tofu is in the protein category - I was trying to make the printables on as few pieces of paper as possible to be green!):

  • Hamburger Patty
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Pinto Beans
  • Navy Beans
  • Almonds
  • Seeds
  • Peas
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Skim Milk
  • Chocolate Milk
  • Soy Milk
  • Ice Cream
  • Frozen Yogurt
  • Fat-free Yogurt
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Swiss Cheese
  • Pudding

Looking for more articles about teaching kids healthy lifestyle habits? Here are some additional articles from Katrena's Fit Tips 4 Life blog:
You can also find a great series of educational interactive games by Katrena featuring fruits and vegetables by color. Here is the first one in the series that focuses on green foods.

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