Like so many parents, I have depended upon children’s books to help teach my three kids important life lessons. “Hands are Not for Hitting” was a well-worn favorite of mine during those active toddler years with two boys just a year apart. An Elmo potty training book had a special seat in the bathroom for a few touch-and-go months. Then there was “How do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep?” which my husband and I repeatedly grasped for when the boys were too riled up at bedtime to stay under the covers. Thank goodness those dinosaurs knew how to “give a big kiss, turn out the light, tuck in their tails, and whisper ‘Good night.’ ”
Of course there are stacks of children’s books that tackle the subjects of healthy eating and nutrition. Lauren Child’s “I Will Never, Not Ever Eat a Tomato” was one of my children’s all-time favorites, not for the positive food messages, but rather because that Charlie-and-Lola sibling duo are downright winning. And let’s not forget Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” — “Sam I Am” has helped generations of picky eaters ultimately try that first bite.
If you are interested in teaching your kids about healthy food, or if you are struggling with a picky eater, here are some helpful reads to support your efforts. Some of these titles beg for an accompanying activity. When reading “Green Eggs and Ham,” serve avocado, celery, spinach or frankly anything green (green eggs an obvious option). While reading “Alphabet Salad,” make a matching fruit salad with your kids. “Growing Vegetable Soup” begs for you to stir up a pot of the warm stuff, and “Chicks and Salsa” practically demands a subsequent snack time.
These books may trigger happy conversations with your children about subjects such as favorite foods and how many colors have been eaten that day, but the books speak volumes on their own. There is no need to hammer home nutrition facts while reading them to your children; your kids will absorb the messages more authentically if they are able to enjoy the books and do not feel pressured to learn something that you are desperate to teach them.
The titles geared toward the teen set are meant to empower young adults as they make ever more food choices away from home, and also as they connect their food choices to their energy levels, their ability to build muscle or perform athletically, and their levels of focus and attention at school. Don’t be surprised if these books spark a new type of activism in your teen. Many kids this age, once educated about our food system, become horrified by what they learn and as a result aim to effect change.
There are obviously many more books on the shelves about nutrition, but this list provides a solid start. And as I like to remind my boys, in the immortal words of English philosopher Bern Williams, “books had instant replay long before televised sports.” So don’t be afraid to read them to your children again and again.
Books with positive nutrition messages
FOR LITTLE KIDS
●“Alphabet Salad: Fruit and Vegetables from A to Z,” Sarah L. Schette.
●“Chicks and Salsa,” Aaron Reynolds.
●“Eating the Alphabet,” Lois Elhert.
●“Feast for 10,” Cathryn Falwell.
●“Green Eggs and Ham,” Dr. Seuss.
●“Growing Vegetable Soup,” Lois Elhert.
●“I Will Never, Not Ever Eat a Tomato,” Lauren Child.
●“The Seven Silly Eaters,” Mary Ann Hoberman and Marla Frazee.
●“Fueling the Teen Machine,” Ellen Shanley.
●“Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition,” Michael Pollan.
●“Smart Girls Guide to Going Vegetarian,” Rachel Meltzer Warren.
●“Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat,” Megan and Jill Carle.
●“Your Food is Fooling You: How Your Brain is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat and Salt,” David A. Kessler.
●“You: The Owner’s Manual for Teens: A Guide for a Healthy Body and a Happy Life,” Michael F. Rozen and Mehmet C. Oz.
First published in The Washington Post on Thursday, August 10, 2017.