First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative has emerged as a powerful force in operation childhood obesity prevention. The campaign focuses on encouraging kids to increase current levels of physical activity (an hour a day keeps the doctor away!) while practicing healthier eating habits. Current USDA dietary recommendations are represented by a simple picture: MyPlate, an accessible and appealing visual meal-planning guide.
Unlike the old food pyramids of yesteryear, with their bread-and-pasta bases and ambiguous “servings”, MyPlate is simpler for parents and children alike. Before we dig in, we should be asking: “Do fruits and veggies make up half of this meal? Do the other two quarters consist of lean protein and whole grains?” And instead of a soda or other sugar-sweetened drink, how about a glass of low fat milk? (PS: MyWish? Can we have a glass of plain water on the other side of the plate, please?)
Because MyPlate doesn’t suggest specific foods, but instead recommends healthy combinations of the different food groups, we can once again get creative with our cooking. As the father of lateral thinking, Edward de Bono once said, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” So parents and healthy eaters, break out of that macaroni and cheese matrix! Crack open some cookbooks (for ideas, not recipes) and then start experimenting… The more new things you try, the better you’ll get at improvising (and combining) a range of balanced dishes.
The best part of having an open-ended, simple guide as a template is that parents can get creative about planning meals with their children. We’re all busy, but even if we can include them a couple of times a week, getting kids more engaged in choosing the foods that they eat is a really good idea. Studies suggest that exposing kids to a range of foods (via cooking, gardening, eating, etc.) will help them develop healthier eating habits later on. So, don’t let the picky-eater blues get you down! Your efforts today will likely mean that tomorrow, your little ones will be begging for more sautéed broccolini. Here are just a few simple, fun suggestions to turn MyPlate into your plate:
If you can, take your children with you when you shop for fruits and vegetables.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a supermarket or a Farmer’s Market! Wherever you go, hang out around the vegetables and let your kids choose something to try cooking that night. They choose what’s on the plant-based half of the plate and you choose a lean protein and whole grain to complement their selection. (In the past, I’ve had to look up how to cook a “sunchoke” or what to do with parsnips to make them…edible, but we all ended up learning something in the end!)
Give MyPlate an international twist. Make one meal every month a MyVacationPlate meal.
Choose a country and cuisine and try and structure that night’s dinner around the country. Even better, let your children pick the country and get them involved in researching what other people in the world eat! (Learning the names of international specialties are a great way to expose them to the sounds of different languages too.)
Get your children into the kitchen and cooking with you!
Give them an age-appropriate task and let them contribute to the meal. Even the smallest kids can skewer fruit, mash avocados or chop mushrooms with plastic knives. Let older kids prepare a simple fruit salad, wash and prep greens, peel and cut apples for a healthy crumble, etc. The possibilities are endless. Not only will you get to enjoy having your child’s company in the kitchen, but your child will also get a boost of self-esteem knowing that they prepared a little something that’s on everyone’s plate!