It's no big secret that food companies use cartoons, cartoon characters, bold colorful labeling and even the latest hip young celebrity to attract kids to foods. From candy to cereal, from TV dinners to chips, cartoon figures and product placement in cartoons is a genius marketing tool. Well now the health food scene is climbing on board the cartoon band wagon to try and gain appetite excitement with the younger generation. And even hospitals and health libraries are trying to drum up kid interest in healthier nutrition, with the use of engaging lessons that harness art and creativity. Like drawing what they ate last week so they can animate food concepts. In other words, experts in nutrition want to make healthy food a hip trend.
One easy way to use this interactive concept is for moms to start putting stickers of cartoon figures or even just a happy face on plastic containers of vegetables and fruits placed in their child's school lunch box. At Saint Luke's Hospital in New York, a grant is allowing a research associate to engage kids who attend the new nutrition programs by using Dora the Explorer, Elmo and SpongeBob figures during lessons on fruits, vegetables and general nutrition. Parents are learning basic nutrition guidelines along with their kids, and learning how to shop healthfully for the whole family. The idea is to use the cartoon figures to get the kids excited about embracing better food choices. Once the kids learn that there are a number of fruits and vegetables that taste good, really good, it becomes more about swapping out processed food for foods in their natural state and getting kids to track their fruit and vegetable consumption. And studies seem to indicate that the same packaging that makes unhealthy food attractive, can work with healthier food.
Of course parents cannot just "talk the talk." They also need to model the very behaviors they want to see their kids embrace. So parents need to sit with their kids and showcase their own produce consumption. They also need to use prep time in the kitchen, and mealtimes to discuss nutrition and physical activity. There's no doubt that talk happens easily and freely when there's food on the table. so why not instigate a nutrition lesson with a family acitivity that involves food prep in the kitchen?
- Buy stickers and make sure to "label" fruit and vegetable containers and bags with them.
- Let the kids draw "journals" of what they eat and then indicate if they need more fruits and vegetables in the pictures (which means in their daily diet).
- Find fun recipes that allow kids to incorporate more produce in their daily consumption-top cereals with berries, use cut open melons and cleaned out peppers as "bowls" to hold food.
- Use fruits in desserts - chocolate dipped strawberries and sponge cake topped with mixed berries are two easy recipes
- Make yogurt parfaits, layering healthy cereal, nuts (if your child is not allergic), fruit and yogurt.