April 2011: Choose Foods that Make You “Go!”

How do you help your kids make good choices for snacks and meals? Try using wording that makes sense to kids and connects to what they want to do. Do they care that the canned frosting has fats that may be bad for their heart? Not so much. Do they care if eating unhealthy foods will make them “slow down”, “not have sustained energy” or “make them sleepy”? YES! So let’s learn how to talk to kids about food on a level that will connect with them! To do so, I’ve asked Juliette Britton, a Master of Dietetics student, to tell us about the concept of “Go foods” and “Slow down foods”. If you were able to join Nurture at the recent TV Tune Out Event as part of the Winnetka Alliance’s week-long TV Tune out in March, you and your kids may have learned about Go/Slow foods first hand. If you missed the event, check out this fun, 3 minute video about the event:

Go or Slow? By Juliette Britton

Take a trip down any grocery aisle, and you will see labels that read: “all natural, fat-free, reduced sodium, nitrate-free, gluten free…” and the list goes on. It is no wonder there is so much confusion as to what constitutes a healthy diet. So what should one eat? I had the opportunity to ask this very question to over 200 kindergarten and 2nd grade students while teaching Nurture’s Go or Slow lesson.

The first question I asked the students: Why does the body need food? The students quickly raised their hands and responded with the following answers: for energy, to grow big and strong, and to be healthy.

This is an important question to ask. By understanding why the body needs food, it becomes much easier to decipher what types of food provide the best fuel. Any food with calories provides energy for the body. However, not all calories are created equal. A chocolate covered donut has the same amount of calories as a bowl of oatmeal with strawberries and slivered almonds. Yet, the body is left hungry several hours after eating the donut, whereas the oatmeal is much more filling and nutritious.

My second question for the students: what types of food give the body long lasting energy? Their responses included: carrots, apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, watermelon, strawberries, and oranges.
Hmm….I find this response very interesting. Notice there were no low-fat energy bars, protein shakes, or baked chips, the only responses were fruits and vegetables. Nurture calls fruits and veggies ‘go‘ foods, because they fuel the body with long lasting energy, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to support growth and movement. In addition to fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, legumes, eggs, milk, and whole grains are also considered ‘go’ foods. In the simplest terms, ‘go’ foods fuel the body so it can move!

The next question I asked the students: what foods slow the body down? They had a long list of these: cookies, cake, ice cream, brownies, chips, French fries, potato chips, candy, and soda. Nurture refers to these foods that have little nutritional value as ‘slow’ foods. ‘Slow’ foods may provide the body with a short burst of energy but leave the body feeling hungry or sleepy shortly thereafter. In other words, ‘slow’ foods slow down the body.

Finally, I asked the students: If slow foods make us sleepy, does that mean we can never eat them? They said, “No, slow foods are okay every once in a while”. While moderation may not be part of the kindergarten vocabulary, they define it quite well! What I love most about this Nurture lesson is that it promotes the consumption of mostly ‘go’ foods, but emphasizes that ‘slow’ foods can be a part of a balanced diet when consumed in moderation. Nurture believes in promoting a positive relationship with food, therefore it uses the word ‘slow’ rather than ‘bad’. Using the word ‘bad’ often inflicts a sense of shame. This sets the stage for an unhealthy relationship with food. The Go or Slow lesson promotes a healthy relationship with food by focusing on how energized the body feels after eating ‘go’ foods. Energy is a buzz word that kids love. Energy implies movement, liveliness and fun. Slow foods, on the other hand, promote sleepiness. Not many children want to feel sleepy!

The lesson includes a fun scavenger hunt activity. Students look for hidden ‘go’ or ‘slow’ food cards and then discuss which foods are ‘go’ and which are ‘slow’. Finally, students make their own trail mix.

You don’t need to need to have your kids take part in a formal lesson for them to start thinking in terms of “go” and “slow down” foods.  Just start using the terminology in your own home (and at the grocery store!) and see how it goes over.  Let us know what your success and challenge stories are by sharing with us via a comment.

For more information about the Go/Slow down concept, please check out the Chicago Parent article and audio story,  “Nonprofit teaches healthy eating, one rice cooker at a time”.

Happy April!

Kathryn & Juliette

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