Most parents, teachers, pediatricians and other caregivers want children to eat healthy diets. But unhealthy choices are seemingly everywhere: from the fast-food drive-through to french fries in the school lunchroom. It can be challenging to get children on board with healthy eating when sugary, high-fat food is so readily available. One way to encourage kids to eat healthfully is to educate them about nutrients, such as the importance of antioxidants.
What are Antioxidants?
In order to teach kids about antioxidants, you need to understand them yourself. According to the National Institutes of Health, antioxidants are vitamins and other nutrients that help protect your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are byproducts of digestion, and toxins found in the environment, that may contribute to serious health problems like cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants are found in healthy foods, particularly vividly colored vegetables and fruits.
Provide Age-Appropriate Information
When teaching kids about antioxidants, it's crucial to provide age-appropriate information. While your preschooler may not be able to understand what free radicals are, she may get the idea if you describe antioxidants as vitamin "superheroes" who fight the chemical "bad guys" that try to make you sick. Renowned pediatrician Dr. William Sears also recommends using age-appropriate storybooks to teach children about nutrition. Ask your local librarian or bookstore attendant for a selection of books about vitamins, fruits and vegetables or healthy food groups geared toward the appropriate age group.
Emphasize Antioxidant Sources
The best sources of antioxidants are healthy, whole foods, says Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic. You can get children involved in learning about antioxidants by showing them different sources of these nutrients and letting them help you choose specific examples at the supermarket, for instance. Young children, especially, are drawn to bright colors and interesting shapes and textures; bell peppers, berries, watermelon, red cabbage, sweet potatoes and carrots are all examples of vividly hued, antioxidant-rich foods that children may enjoy seeing, touching and tasting.
Make Nutrition Fun
Because children often like to get involved in kitchen projects, consider using cooking as a way to educate them about antioxidants. Raw veggie trays, fruit salads, whole-grain breads and muffins, sandwiches and soups are fun to mix, bake or arrange, as long as adults handle the sharp knives and hot stoves. Hands-on experience with nutritious foods can help kids get excited about incorporating them into their own diets, and helping create a dish or a meal can be a great source of pride for children.