Debra Moffitt is the kids’ editor at KidsHealth.org, the #1 website on children’s health and development. Nonprofit and physician-led, more than 50 of the nation’s top children’s hospitals include KidsHealth content on their websites. Visit us at www.KidsHealth.org.
If you think eating right is confusing, imagine how kids feel. Like grownups, they’re surrounded by nutrition messages (Low-fat!/100% natural!/Packed with Omega 3s!). They want to be healthy and they definitely don’t want to be overweight. But they’re not adults and they don’t buy the groceries, or call all the shots. Plus, they’re immersed in a kid food culture that’s a blizzard of French fries, chicken nuggets, processed snacks, and sugary drinks.
So if you’re going to reach them, you are going to need a cute snowman and some simple messages. That was our thinking behind Food Flight, a new, free app from KidsHealth.org.
With a tilt this way and that, players can position the snowman to eat the food that’s falling from the sky like snow. The five food groups are well represented (fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods, protein foods, and low-fat dairy), but soda and cinnamon rolls are falling, too. We also mixed in holiday treats like Christmas cookies, pumpkin pie, and candy canes.
So kids ages 4 and up will like the novelty of their task – feeding a snowman a day’s worth of sky-fresh food. But behind the scenes, Food Flight was designed to teach kids basic rules about balance, choices, and how much is too much when it comes to treats.
There’s pressure to reduce subject of nutrition to a few, digestible tips. It’s not that easy. Nutrition is a science, after all, and we’re all trying to apply best practices as those best practices are continually revised and refined.
But you have to start somewhere, especially with kids, so we started with these five principles. We hope kids will enjoy our app and families will use it to talk about food choices.
Principle 1: Some foods are better than others. A banana is better for you than a doughnut. Kids win the game when they feed the snowman all (or nearly all) nutritious foods.
Principle 2: People (and snowmen) need a certain number of calories every day. We picked 2,000 calories because that’s an average per day amount for school-age kids. (The range is 1,600 to 2,400, depending on age and activity level.) Daily calories are like a bank account so kids should spend their calories wisely every day.
Principle 3: There isn’t much room in anyone’s diet for low-nutrient foods. Everyone needs calories to deliver nutrition. Vitamins and nutrients keep a kid’s body working and growing the way it should. Players win Food Flight by feeding the snowman 90% or more of his daily calories in healthy foods. That means less than 200 calories in ice cream, potato chips, chocolate bars, and soda. The game ends early if kids overdo it.
Principle 4: Kids should eat a variety of foods. We used the food groups in the USDA’s MyPlate: fruits, vegetables, protein foods, whole-grain foods, and lowfat dairy. Even kids who win the game will be challenged to play again and focus on their weakest food group.
Principle 5: The holidays present a challenge to healthful eating. That’s why we launched this app with a winter holiday theme. Like in the game, kids can have a cookie or candy cane and still win. They just can’t have a dozen of each. Our pediatricians at KidsHealth offer this simple tip: Limit holiday eating to a special day or two and live by these basic principles the rest of the year. Remember that it’s a holi-day, not a holi-week or month!