On October 24th, I spoke to over 300 kids at St. Joseph's school. I was honored that they asked me to speak and did not want to turn down the opportunity to share my excitement for health and wellness and be part of Health Awareness Week!
I created three separate 20-minute talks, in order for each talk to be age appropriate. Because we all know that kids in 3rd and 4th grade have a different attention span than 7th and 8th graders. Furthermore, 5th and 6th graders retain info differently than in the other grades. I find that the missing link in teaching children about the importance of eating fruits and veggies is that there is too much "education". I wanted the talks to be fun and interactive and of course, involve food.
Kids have an amazing way of wanting to try new things when they are around their friends and peers. Therefore, I asked Whole Foods if they would like to help me out with my talk and they gladly said "YES!".
Thanks to Whole Foods and my quick shop at Publix, the kids had a variety of foods try as I discussed the colors of the rainbow. For my samples, I made edamame and quinoa and brought in several "Whole grain" options such as WASA crackers, wheat thins and a kashi granola bar. I also brought in raisins as a "Sweet treat" as well as cilantro, an avocado and collard greens for a pop of color. Lastly, I had a greek yogurt as a great source of protein and calcium. Whole Foods provided the ingredients and vita mix for sample smoothies for every single kid and teacher so a BIG thank you to them for volunteering and providing wonderful food and lots of great information.
I had the kids first tell me the colors of the rainbow (which was super easy for them) ROYGBIV). The youngest group (3rd and 4th graders) were a blast to speak to as they all wanted to be my special helpers and were eager to try new foods. Not surprisingly, the children were really receptive and polite and welcomed a few new foods.
The reason why I wanted to focus on the colors of the rainbow is because I wanted to demonstrate to the kids that fruits and veggies are whole foods. Although skittles and M&M's are very colorful, they don't carry the same nutrients in fruits and veggies, that the body needs in order to survive and function.
The wonderful thing about fruits and veggies is that they don’t come in a box, they aren’t made in a factory by a machine, you don’t have to microwave them to eat them, they don’t have ingredients or a food label and you can find them anywhere in the world. Even better, if you travel to other states or countries you can even find new fruits and veggies, not available in your state or country. Also, what’s great about fruits and veggies is that they are created by nature and that means that they are filled with lots of healthy nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
One of my favorite parts when speaking to the older kids was showing them my Ironman medal. I told them that I had just gotten back from the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and after telling them the distances of the Ironman, I had them guess how long it takes me to complete an Ironman.
The closet guess.....
After surprising them that I once completed an Ironman in my fastest time of 10 hours and 54 minutes, I told them that I was a vegetarian and I eat lots of fruits and veggies, alongside non-meat protein, whole grains and healthy fats.
I then told the kids that it’s very important to eat lots of colorful fruits and veggies so that you can keep your body healthy and strong as you get older. I then went on....people who don’t eat a lot of fruits and veggies may not be able to play sports as well as others or play musical instruments as well as others, they may not be able to remember information as well as others, they may not have a lot of energy to go outside and play and most of all, as you get older, fruits and veggies will help your body stay healthy so that you don’t get diseases or get sick.
We spent a good amount of time coming up with lots of fruits and veggies to fill our rainbow...here are some of our ideas:
Red – beets, cherries, cranberries, papaya, grapefruit, pomegranates, radishes, raspberries, red apples, red peppers, chili peppers, red grapes, red potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon.
Orange or Yellow – Apricots, butternut squash, banana, cantaloupe, carrots, mangoes, lemon, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pineapples, pumpkin, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, yellow pears, yellow peppers, yellow tomatoes
Green – Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, burssel sprouts, celery, cucumbers, endive, green apples, green beans, green grapes, chives, green peppers, honeydew, kiwis, lettuce, limes, peas, spinach, zucchini
Blue or purple – blackberries, blueberries, plums, eggplant, grapes, prunes, purple potatoes, purple cabbage, purple figs, purple grapes, raisins.
And even though white isn’t a color of the rainbow, we came up with some white foods because they are super healthy and are filled with antioxidants.
White – cauliflower, garlic, ginger, Jicama, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, parsnips, shallots, turnips, white corn, white nectarines, white peaches.
Rather than telling the kids what not to eat or talking about "bad" foods, I focused entirely on getting excited about fruits and veggies and how to create a balanced diet. I told the kids that sometimes a person (at any age) needs to try new things many many times (and in different ways), to start to like them.
I then gave the kids a homework assignment. Every week, I asked them to go to the grocery with their parents and to pick out 1 new fruit and 1 new vegetable to try. I asked them to try to choose something that will help make their plate look like it has all the colors of the rainbow. Then, after they pick out a fruit and veggie for the week, I asked them to try some of it at home with their family, try it in a recipe and then bring in the rest of that fruit and veggie to school, the next day, to eat at lunch time. I asked them to tell all their friends and teachers what fruit and veggie they tried in order to see if someone else is trying something that they have never had before.
The kids were really excited to do their homework :)
In my opinion, here are a few TOP topics that children/kids/teenagers should focus on, when it comes to creating healthy habits and keeping the body in good health:
1) Exercise/move the body daily
2) Eat breakfast
3) Drink water
4) Eat a plant-based, balanced diet
5) Focus on low-fat calcium-rich foods
6) Focus on foods with little to no ingredients for the "foundation" of meals and snacks
7) Eat balanced snacks between meals (and every few hours)
8) Get a good night of sleep, most days of the week
Here are a few great resources if you are interested in learning more:
Fuel Up To Play 60
Healthy Meals USDA
Fruits and Veggies More Matters
Double Green Smoothie
(Courtesy of Whole Foods)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened beverage (non-dairy pending diet restrictions/intolerances - almond or soy)
2 dried apricots or 4 pitted dates
1 cup chopped kale leaves
1 cup spinach leaves
1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries
1. Combine beverage, apricots, banana, kale, spinach and berries in blender and blend until smooth.
115 mg sodium