May 27, 2010

That's Healthy?


When the kids ask for their billionth snack in a row, I usually say, "It has to be healthy." To which they usually say, "Like a can of Mandarin oranges?" or "like toast with jelly?" So I'm realizing that the kids don't really have a clue as to what healthy actually is. Time for a science class!!!

Today I gathered my supplies and got ready for Nutritionpalooza! I asked each of the kids to go to the pantry or food storage area and get 2 things they like to snack on that they think are healthy. I was a little surprised at what they came back with. Both because some foods were not what I expected them to pick as a favorite and because some were so not healthy that I thought it would be obvious.


I made an empty chart with a column for them to draw the food and then columns for them to write in the amount of carbs, fats, sugars, and proteins in grams. We filled it in as we looked at each food.

We started by talking about the difference between foods that remember where they came from (thank you Oprah) and foods that can't and why that is important. I told the kids that the fewer ingredients, the healthier the food. So a food with a long list of ingredients is probably not as good of a choice as a food with 2 ingredients. And finally, before we got to work, we talked about being able to recognize the ingredients. "Do chemicals grow in our garden? Do you think they have vitamins? They are usually to make the food last longer before going bad, and they usually aren't good for our bodies. So if we don't recognize it, we should not eat a lot of it."

Finally, we got to work. Hannah Jane googled the RDA for children of our chart components. I was a little surprised (embarrassingly) that there is no RDA for sugars. Well, the RDA was "you don't need any sugar." Then we started looking at our labels.


There were some surprises there as well. The kids picked canned mandarin oranges as one of their favorites and all said it was healthy because it was a fruit. I held up an apple and asked if it was about the same in terms of health as the canned oranges. They all nodded. We found that an apple has 2g of sugar and the canned oranges have 20g. They all looked like, "So what?"

I got out the balance and we made each linking cube represent a gram of sugar. That drove it home. "The medical community has assessed that we don't need any sugar, and we know that too much is very bad for our bodies. Look at the difference between our fruit that remembers where it came from and the fruit that went to a factory before it came to us." They all got the point. They were in shock, but they got the point. Can you see in the above picture how Hannah Jane looks like she wants to cry over the realization that her favorite snack is bad for her body? This rocked her world.


Next came the corn chips. Before we got to looking at the label, I wanted to draw their attention to the concept of serving size. I asked them to fill a bowl with the amount they thought they could eat in one sitting. They all agreed to the bowl on the left as being about the right amount for one kid to eat at one time. I filled the bowl on the right with the actual serving size (9 chips). The difference was pretty big. Like me, they all thought that there would be nothing satisfying about eating 9 chips.

On to the label for the chips. I was surprised about how not unhealthy the chips are. They actually had a little protein (shocker!) and no trans fats. They had relatively little sugar. And we knew every item on the ingredients list, which only had four things listed. So, I had to concede that this is a reasonable snack when you eat just the nine. Maybe with some home made hummus or bean dip this could be pretty well rounded. So that was my big shock of the day.


The boys really like using the balance, so we measured every item's sugar against the dreaded mandarin oranges. Then against pudding. Then the oranges against the pudding. It was devastation all around!


We moved into the sun room with our chart all filled out and divided our foods into reasonable snacks and once in a while snacks.


Finally I had the kids flip the chart over and draw pictures of fruits and veggies that they actually like and will eat. We made a list and I promised to grocery shop from their list to see how many fruits and veggies we could pack into our daily routines.

This was one of the best, most applicable lessons we've done in a while. We had a ton of math in there with comparing amounts of different nutritional components, charting, units of measuring weight, etc. We had some health, obviously. We had some art, life skills, and handwriting. And best of all, we were not at a desk. The kids were in charge of choosing the items we used and they resulting grocery list was all theirs. This was a win all the way around!

4 comments:

  1. That's a great lesson Skyla! I think I will try to do that with my kiddos. They just think I'm the health monster and I have never really sat done and explained why. :)

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  2. Okay, Lori, I read your comment, but it seems to have vaporized into cyberspace so I'll repost it before I reply:
    Okay, Momma Skyla, I have been thinking and thinking and thinking about this post since you posted it! I had a hard time swallowing that the apple had SO little sugar. I would like to know where you got your info, cause what I found is that a medium apple (3" in diameter) has 95 calories and just under 19 grams of sugar. Granted, the mandarin oranges in syrup have *added* sugar, so it is not as good as a fresh apple. When fruits aren't in season (man, I LOVE summer for all the fresh fruit!!), we do end up eating some (not a ton) of canned fruits, but I will only get the ones in fruit juices and no added sugar. It isn't as good as fresh, raw, yummy stuff, but it is better than nothing. I think. Would love to have some dialog on this if you have other thoughts!! :) And the site from the USDA is: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/cgi-bin/list_nut_edit.pl

    To reply, you got me thinking and I googled and regoogled and found quite a range of apple sugar data. It seems as though the site I found the day of the lesson listed somewhat low in that range. But I did find this other super cool site on sugar in fruit http://www.sugarstacks.com/fruits.htm that you should check out if you're into it. As for the healthy difference, I looked high and low and here's my general finding: canned fruit is nutritionally similar when unsweetened, but contains less fiber, vitamins, and minerals. What vitamins and inerals are listed as being in the can may have mostly been leeched into the water or juice and go down the drain when you serve the fruit, and may be partially broken down and therefore slightly less bioavailable from the long shelf life. But, as for the original issue of sugar, the content listed is for the entire apple unless otherwise specified, so I looked for places that specified a sliced apple less the core since my kids usually leave a lot more on the apple than I would like :) If I take an average of all of the sites I looked at, I'm reestimating at around 10g for a small sliced red apple. That's somewhere closer to the middle of the big ole range of sugar stats. And I can find every fruit under the sun packing in water except for mandarins, which always seem to be in syrup, hence the big difference. So, thanks Lori for keeping me honest and getting me to double check my numbers. With the web as your resources, sometimes I guess you can't just go with the first number that you find. But my new insights still lead me to lean toward fresh b/c the fiber can slow the absorption rate of sugars and avoid that high/crash sugar cycle that we can sometimes get stuck in. Okay. Longest comment ever. Maybe I'll reblog this topic with your comment in mind! But, yes, I would love to keep this dialogue going! So much to learn!

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  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and research. One of the things I find interesting is how our concept of a "serving size" is so off kilter. I certainly am NO expert! I had a personal trainer/nutrition enthusiast just go on and on about how even fruit is not so easy - what we see in the stores for most bananas is WAY more than a single serving. On the other hand, it seems that the organic/homegrown stuff is always smaller - and thus, maybe, it is more in line with a true serving? Not to mention it tastes better!!

    As for canned fruit, I hear ya on all the stuff that comes "out" of the fruit when it isn't fresh. Fresh is always better. Farmer's market/homegrown: even better! I am going to try to capitalize on whatever I can this year - eating tons of it fresh and putting some up. No guarantees, but I am trying. We don't do MUCH canned fruit (store-bought), mind you, but I usually have some on hand, just in case. Look for the "lite" mandarin oranges. I want to say that I looked at the Kroger (Smith's) brand and it was fruit juice. I absolutely refuse to buy the kinds that have artificial sweeteners, but many of the "lite" versions are simply labeled that way because they aren't packed in the heavy syrups. I think. Don't quote me. :)

    I am always in search of more healthy snacks, so I love that you have brought this issue up. I used to think that pretzels were a good idea, but was dissuaded from that by a doctor of mine. But, I occasionally cave and still get goldfish. Happily, they are becoming less enamored with that and would prefer the fruit.

    Now, if I could just get our house to eat more veggies...

    Lori

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  4. I know! Let's make a list of things that we, the public have been tricked into calling health food over the years. Let's see, you got us rolling with pretzels, then there's baked potatoes, granola, bagels. All these things that there have been fad diets around! haha!
    We've been invited by some guy with Johns Hopkins and one other U (can't remember) to do a weekly cooking with kids video, and you have inspired me to give it a nutrition spin! I'd love any thoughts or ideas you have! You are such a great, thinking mother!
    hugs!

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