My entire family loves electronic gadgets. From smartphones to AppleTVs, our lives are thoroughly wired. I often remind my busy clients and my own family about the importance of being present with your kids at mealtimes. By this I mean not just physically present, but also mentally present. This is a huge factor in teaching your kids about better nutrition through social interaction and enjoying healthy meals together.
Admittedly, even I find it hard to pry myself away from these devices sometimes, but we try our best to keep them out of mealtimes. Ultimately, it’s far more gratifying to see the rewards of staying engaged: language development in young children and cognitive development in older kids.
While technology can be a damaging distraction, it also provides health-conscious parents with a wealth of resources, including fun, interactive ways for children to learn about nutrition. There are plenty of nutrition apps and websites for adults but only a few notable ones designed for the younger set.
One great app is Smash Your Food (www.foodnme.com/smash-your-food). This is a guessing game where your child gets see and hear ten commonly eaten junk foods explode while revealing the amounts of sugar, salt and oil in them. The vivid sounds and gooey mess left behind certainly leaves an impression on kids and helps provide a platform for you to further discuss food and healthy food choices.
For example: "Remember how much sugar was in that milkshake that exploded? Do you think we can choose something better?"
For older school-age kids, PickChow (www.zisboombah.com) is an empowering, hands-on website that let kids pick their own nutritious dinners and then e-mail their choices to their parents. Designed by registered dieticians, pediatricians and exercise physiologists, this website can help get your kids more involved in the meal decision process.
For the time being, mobile devices still tend to be aimed toward parents. One such useful tool is Tactio’s collection of BMI (body mass index) calculators for iPhone. This ranges from the adult BMI app to the baby BMI calculator. There are similar apps made for Android and other platforms as well.
A comprehensive tool for parents that spans the web, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and iPad is MyNetDiary. This is a very simple and intuitive program that allows you to track what you eat. I have found that for some individuals, using this app helps them to stay honest about their food choices. There is also an exercise function to calculate how many calories you burned with your exercise.
Even the classic food-refusal story, Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, is on the iPhone and iPad (although the companion Fun with Food cookbook has yet to reach the electronic age). Whatever the format, the lessons learned in Green Eggs and Ham remain the same: Stay persistent but have fun at the same time. Sam-I-Am tried 13 times before the creature gave it a try. The lesson for us parents could be that old-fashioned persistence plus some inspired zaniness is all we need to fight the nutrition battle.
Got a question? Olivia Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) has an MSc in nutrition and provides nutrition counseling.