See that cute kid on the fridge magnet? That’s my darling seven year old. Two years ago she ate a variety of foods that covered all the major food groups. She could have been a poster child for the food pyramid.
Not so much anymore.
To rectify the situation, I was searching online for kid’s nutrition activities (I was hoping to teach mine the importance of a varied diet) when I stumbled upon a nutrition chart that was used by a mum to track her son’s meals and snacks. She used it to help ensure that he met the daily food serving requirements from each food group.
I knew this system would work because checking things off a list happens to be a challenge my daughter can’t resist!
You can track food intake with paper and pen or check off boxes on a chart but using magnets adds a certain charm to the process, making it feel like a game.
We’re into our second week and Safiya is already eating better. She’s much more willing to try new foods (such as guacamole) and less inclined to pick out all the vegetables in her rice. She still has a ways to go, but using the magnets to classify her meals into the different food groups has forced her to recognize the gaping holes in her diet.
She’s taking the initiative to include some dairy and vegetables in her snacks so she can add magnets to those food groups. The other day she had celery sticks and humous for her after school snack when normally she would have picked crackers. She even tried red peppers with the humous. She didn’t like it – but the point is – she tried it. Two weeks ago she would have turned up her nose at the idea.
What You Need to Print
My main source for the pictures is a nutrition lesson from the montesorriprintshop.com. I like their print quality and the lesson includes photos of the five food groups. I’ve used these instead of the chart to create a more visual tracking system. The download cost me $3.89 but I didn’t have to spend time on google searching for food images.
The chart I originally stumbled upon can be found here. The site includes free links to download the chart as well as pictures of various food items.
Between the free link and the paid download I had plenty of food items but I was still missing several items the kids typically eat. In the end I spent about a half hour printing a few additional foods. You can skip this part if you want. If your child eats a kiwi and you don’t have a picture of it, you can always ask them to pick a different fruit and use that instead.
I didn’t like the idea of using a plain old vegetable for a home-cooked vegetable curry. But that’s just my pride talking ;)
Setting it Up
- Decide which method to follow: use the chart system I found here, use the nutrition lesson plan I downloaded from the montessoriprintshop.com, or use google to search for your own images. If you’re like me, you might do a bit of everything!
- Print your material onto card stock.
- I highly recommend that you laminate the printed sheets for the sake of durability.
- Once you’ve laminated the printed sheets, you can cut out the individual pieces.
- Stick a piece of self-stick magnet to the back of each food item and on to the backs of the food groups (if using).
- Arrange the pictures of the food groups on the fridge and specify the number of appropriate servings for each food group based on your child’s age. I used numbers from a set of magnets we own but you can use a permanent marker and jot down the number of servings right on the picture.
- You can look up the number of servings based on age and gender on the Health Canada website. The dairy servings listed are a little big for my kids so I split each serving in two.
- I opted to include a treat card which means that the kids get to have one treat a day. This is usually a cookie, a piece of chocolate, ice-cream, etc.
- I keep most of the food magnets in a little basket. I swap them out depending on what we have in the house and what we’re eating for dinner that particular night. It helps to keep the surfaces uncluttered :)
Instructions for the Kids
1. Let your kids know that the idea is to aim for the number of servings specified on the various food groups.
2. Explain that every time they eat something they should place a picture of it beside the appropriate food group.
3. If you do use a treat card explain that they are allowed one treat a day. They should understand that treats are NOT a food group!
I also made a point to stress that I was in charge of choosing the treat and that it would generally be something that was already in our pantry e.g. a cookie, ice-cream, chocolate, pudding, etc. I didn’t want the kids to think mummy would be buying special treats everyday!
Tips to Succeed
Talk about nutrition with your children before you jump into this. They should at least have a basic understanding of the various food groups.
Here are some of the things we did that I think helped Safiya be more proactive when we got started.
1. Before you place self-stick magnets on the laminated cards, let your kids sort the foods into their appropriate food groups. This is especially helpful if they haven’t learned about the various food groups and if they have, it’s a good way to refresh their memories!
2. Nourishinteractive.com has some great resources geared towards younger kids. I had my kids do this and this activity to help them understand the importance of filling their plates with colour. They also had fun with this “farm to table” sequencing worksheet.
3. I printed a couple of fill my plate worksheets and handed out grocery flyers, scissors and a glue stick telling the kids to fill up their plates with yummy food from each food group. My seven year old also worked on this meal planner.
3. To help the kids visualize serving sizes we went through each food group and measured some of the foods they typically eat.
Examples of what we measured: 3/4 cup cereal, 1/2 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup cooked pasta, 1/2 cup grapes and chopped strawberries, 2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1.5 oz cheese (one string cheese) and 1 cup of milk.
4. Finally, consider offering a simple reward when they reach their goals. One thing that works well in our home is allowing them to choose what mummy cooks for dinner one night a week.
Some Final Notes
- Our stainless fridge only has one visible side that is magnetic and the space was too small to hold two sets of cards so I set one child up on our stainless steel dishwasher :)
- If you don’t have magnetic appliances, you could set up a whiteboard and place it in or beside the kitchen.
- I let Safiya have a vegetable magnet even if she’s only had a half serving. The goal is to encourage her to eat more vegetables and dairy products. I don’t want to put her off by making the serving sizes seem too big for her to stomach ;)
- Finally, I should mention that although my four year old likes to add magnets to the food groups he couldn’t care less about servings! All the same, his big sister is a great role model and witnessing her willingness to try new foods has been an incentive for him to follow suit.