Remember back when you were in elementary school, learning about the Food Pyramid? Who can forget that giant brown base of grains and the capstone of fats, oils, and sweets, sitting atop the pyramid like the end goal, rather than the most unhealthy food group? The United States Department of Agriculture made the Food Pyramid an ancient artifact when they introduced the intelligently simple design of MyPlate back in 2011. Not only does the design of MyPlate simplify the concepts of healthy eating by food groups for adults, but it also provides more opportunities for fun, healthy-eating educational, activities with your little chefs.
Cracking the Color Code
MyPlate uses different colors to indicate each food group. Vegetables are green, fruit is red, protein is violet, grains are orange, and dairy is light blue. To prepare for this activity, you can buy colored sticky notes or use cut up strips of construction paper and tape. With your little chef, go through your pantry and refrigerator labeling each food with its corresponding food group. Not only will your little chef arrive at a better understanding of the food groups and their components, but they will also see which food should be eating sparingly if they don’t receive a label. To build on this activity, create a chart on which your little chef can keep track of the colors (food groups) she eats in a day. Allowing your little chef to choose his own vegetable gives him some freedom of choice, while still achieving your goal of raising healthy eaters.
Recipe for Success
There are so many amazing sources for recipes now, and many of them are accompanied by beautiful photography. Sit down with your little chef and let her identify a recipe she would like to make with you. Feel free to present her with a handful of options, if you don’t feel like making a five-course French-inspired meal. Read over the ingredients and talk about which food group each one belongs in. You may even want to color code the ingredients to make the information more visible. Next, see if there are any gaps. For example, maybe the recipe includes protein and grains, but no vegetables or fruits. Is there a way to include vegetables or fruits? Adding spinach leave is often an easy way to do so, and your little chef might suggest making fruit salad as an appetizer.
The USDA has launched a new initiative through MyPlate.gov called MyPlate, MyState. Their goal is to encourage people to eat healthy foods by identifying and making the foods that grow best in their own home state. This project is a nice opportunity to expand your discussion of the food groups to include geography and weather. To start simply, you can make a list of all of the foods grown in your state or the flavors that hold special meaning. As you meal plan each week, try and incorporate a few of those items into your dishes, until you’ve tried them all. If you have a middle-school age chef, you can conduct some research to discover where in your state those foods are grown, plotting them on a map. You may even decide to go from consumers and try your green thumb at being producers.
School aged kids love mascots. Engage your little chef in creating a mascot for each of the five healthy food groups. Your little chef can use the specific foods within each group as inspiration and play up the assigned colors. Each mascot may even be part of some kind of team. Work with your little chef to create or draw the mascots, and then gather the family around the table before dinner for a fun, funny, and informational show.