Super Kids Nutrition had the opportunity to speak with nutrition educator, Super Kids Nutrition Advisory member and writer Christen Cooper, MS, RD based in Pleasantville, New York. We spoke with her about her approach to establishing kids’ healthy eating habits, increasing fruit and veggie intake, and creating a healthy home environment.
How can parents overcome environmental barriers to create healthy eating habits?
Parents often misjudge how smart kids are and their ability to read messages. When you see advertisements or signs for junk food, explain to kids that some foods have lots of sugar, fat and salt and not much that helps your body grow strong and healthy. I tell my kids that there are companies that want to sell us foods that will make us sick, but we don’t have to buy those foods—we have a choice. We can buy nutrient-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables instead. I explain that we have to keep our bodies healthy because no one can do that for us.
As a mother and health expert, what are 5 easy steps parents can take to create a healthy home environment?
Many schools are adapting more hands-on curriculum that includes cooking and gardening in the classroom. What does this curriculum offer children and how does it influence their eating habits?
Studies show that children learn more when they partake in hands-on learning in a caring educational environment when it comes to learning about food and nutrition. This is especially true when they get to taste and see the fruits of their labor. The home kitchen can serve as the ultimate classroom. Start cooking easy meals together and gardening as a family.
What challenges do you face when developing nutrition education and healthy lunch ideas in a school district and parents are skeptical about them?
Whenever you visit a school district with a population of individuals who are not like you in some way (background, socio-economic level, religion, race, etc.), learn as much as you can about your audience before suggesting anything. You want to make suggestions to a group only when you understand their likes and dislikes for different foods. It is also important to find out what foods are available in their neighborhood. For example, you may want to find out what a popular dish is among students at a school that is predominantly Latino (say it’s chicken, beans and rice). You could talk about baking and not frying the chicken, about preparing the rice with less oil and salt, and making the beans without adding lard. You wouldn’t want to encourage this population to eat hummus and baby carrots if there is no place to buy them in their neighborhood. Start with what people are familiar with and work from there.
Can you offer 3 ways parents can teach their kids about nutrition that will encourage life-long healthy eating habits?
What are the top 3 environmental factors that affect children’s food choices?
A focus of your writing includes premature bone loss. What 3 tips can you give parents to increase their children’s bone density and create strong bones? Why is important for parents to think about this now?
Bone health is important because, for women, peak bone mass forms around age 30. Beyond age 30, most women start losing bone mass. Men build bone a little longer, but they still are quite young when they hit their bone mass peak as well. My three tips are to:
If there were one message you could communicate to parents and caregivers about raising healthy eaters, what would it be?
Set a good example for your kids and be a positive parent role-model for good nutrition. Sit down and eat with them. Turn off the TV, talk about your day and enjoy their company. Set the scene for a healthy, nurturing, relaxing meal whenever it is possible.
Christen Cooper, MS, RDis a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Nutrition Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. With Cooper Nutrition Education & Communications (www.coopernutrition.com), she combines her nutrition expertise, business experience, and language capabilities to develop nutrition-based classroom curricula, publications, seminars and research studies.
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