Healthfinder.gov posts a list of National Health Observances by month in which focused efforts of public awareness are made. For example, January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and there are six other initiatives as well. As a dietitian, I would like to call attention to an important initiative that considered March as National Nutrition Month (NNM). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sponsors the annual NNM campaign to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
This is a great time to take advantage of special promotions offered on the Academy website here. Download handouts and try new meal recipes. Innovative classroom materials include “Fun Food Messages” and “Name the Foods. The Academy even has a web page of games that are great to play at home. Dietitians who blog about NNM’s theme, “Get Your Plate in Shape,” will add the icon above to their post.
Have fun exploring these resources for use at home and in the classroom. It’s nice to have so many wonderful nutrition materials readily available for children. But remember: the games on Playnormous.com are also fun, and available 24/7 every day of the year!
It seems that everyday you can log onto the Internet and see articles referring to a scientific study from somewhere around the globe. Some of these studies are done by private research companies, others are by governments, many are done by universities, and sometimes there’s a mix of all three. When professionals read these studies, they pay close attention to the scientific methods and procedures that were used. Most prominent health journals have peer review boards that decide if an article is good enough for publication. Archimage has been a leader in nutrition and health game research for over 10 years years. Results of their work have been published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed scientific journals. For a short list, search Pubmed, an online database of scientific and biomedical journals, for Archimage and Playnormous’ president Richard Buday (a frequent co-author).
A good example of this appeared in Public Health Nutrition in 2010. A team from Baylor College of Medicine and Archimage collaborated to find the best method to visually teach children how to estimate food portions. Children aged 8 to 13 were asked to guess the portion size of 16 food models by matching them to the correct photo. They were shown food images of varying portion sizes. Some children were tested using size cues like utensils or a checked tablecloth placed in the photo as hints. Some were shown each portion photo one at a time; and some were shown all of their photo choices on one page ranging in size from small to large.
In the end, results showed that children made correct food model portion matches with the photos 60% of the time. The way the photos were displayed did not affect accuracy, but choosing from the full page of photo options was 50% faster than viewing them one at a time.
So, if you are planning to teach children how to estimate portion sizes of food photography, presently the most efficient way to is to show them all of their size options at once. Using this method, they will be correct about 60% of the time with this method.
Archimage is very interested and committed to quality research on the best ways to improve childhood nutrition and physical activity behavior. Check the Playnormous Blog often to read the latest nutrition research news. Teachers and parents can use these reviews to help guide their class methods and their application at home.
The year-end holidays are the perfect opportunity to engage the entire family in the kitchen. Some health professionals worry that today’s youth are missing out on learning how to cook. Once on their own, few young adults know how to do more than boil an egg, make toast, or make boxed macaroni and cheese, so take advantage of this special time together to teach lifelong cooking and nutrition skills and family recipes.
It’s tempting to have the kids only make cookies and desserts at this time of year, but also seize the opportunity to teach them how to contribute to making family meals. If relatives are visiting, invite everyone to help. To start, have everyone wash their hands while counting to 20 or singing Happy Birthday. Children with long hair should pull it up into a hair band.
Very young children are good with their hands and can help wash produce, peel fruit and tear lettuce, snap beans, stir and toss cold ingredients, sift flour, sprinkle raisins, and crumble cheese. They are terrific assembly artists and can pour dry ingredients from measuring cups.
Elementary school children can progress to chopping veggies and fruits with strong plastic knives like those made for lettuce, and using other kitchen gadgets such as garlic clove rolls, garlic presses, vegetable peelers, apple section dividers, melon ball scoops, and rolling pins. They may also want to attempt layering salads, or lasagna and scooping liquid into baking cups and pans. They can also use a butter knife to make their own sandwiches and cut fruits and cooked veggies.
Middle school children can measure using spoons and cups. They can stir warm liquids on the stove, use a microwave with care, and begin using a mixer with supervision. They may even want to dabble in designing their own pasta dishes with various veggie combinations. Mature students will need a lesson in safe knife skills, including using a sharpening steel. Take kids this age to the grocery store and have them read food labels and prices.
High school students need to be given some basic rules about using the stove, oven, carving knives, blenders, and food processors. They may have an interest in designing family meal menus and recipes and creating grocery lists. Using recipes with minimal ingredients can be a good foundation to practice planning, shopping, and timing meal preparation.
At this time of year, filling jars with dry ingredient mixes for soups or pancakes make fantastic time-saving gifts. Here’s a link to making a few holiday mixes.
Of course, good nutrition principles should be encouraged at any age, as well as using guided patience, because it will get messy. Show everyone how to help clean up, too. Enjoy precious family time together in the kitchen sharing recipes and special meals.
Have you noticed newly designed shelf labels in your grocery store lately? Markets are making big strides in consumer nutrition education by creating label systems using shapes, colors, and numbers to make it easier to make healthy food choices.
Hannaford has had their kid-friendly Guiding Stars system for years. Foods that don’t meet nutritional criteria have no star label. Parents can engage kids in shopping by setting star limits for foods that can be placed in the shopping cart. One star is good, two better, and three best.
Recently, Shaws Supermarkets introduced their Nutrition IQ color-coded labels based on food nutrient content. A multi-colored wheel on their site explains the details, and makes it easy to select healthy foods based on your needs.
Many markets, like Big Y, Tops, Price Chopper and fourteen other chains are using the Nuval system of shelf labels. Foods are rated a number from 1 to 100 using a complex formula of multiple variables. A score of 100 is the best. Try the “Nutrition by the Numbers” game on their website, and compare family scores.
All of these nutrition tools make grocery shopping faster and effective, and lend themselves well to creating games for kids to help and learn.
Have them search for number ranges, or colors, or star level foods. Think of it as a scavenger hunt in the grocery store. It’s a win-win game for families or individuals.
I ran into an interesting study published in a peer-reviewed journal called Obesity. In this study, researchers at Cornell University looked at the eating behaviors of people at all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. Their goal was to see if eating habits differed based on BMI. As you can imagine, their habits did differ extensively.
If we take what the researchers at Cornell learned from this study and turn it around, we have a concise list of healthy eating habits used by people with normal to low BMI. Perhaps making some changes on not just what you eat but how you eat it can keep your BMI in check. Here’s the full list: