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Raising Healthy Eaters

From the Show: Eat Right Radio
Summary: Food, nutrition and eating skills are among the most important things you can share with your children.
Air Date: 8/11/14
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Wesley Delbridge, RD
Delbridge Wesley 0799webWesley Delbridge is a registered dietitian and the food and nutrition supervisor for the Chandler Unified School District Food and Nutrition Department, where he oversees a team of more than 300 employees who focus on promoting school nutrition, creating and serving healthy food and decreasing childhood obesity, serving more than 45,000 students. He also is a professor of food science at local colleges and universities in Arizona.

Learn more about Wesley.
Raising Healthy Eaters
Food, nutrition and healthy eating skills are among the most important things you can share with your children.

Healthy eating fuels busy, successful lives and provides the nutrients your kids need to play, perform well in school, and grow into healthy adults.

Every day you are faced with an abundance of food and nutrition information and choices, whether it's maintaining a healthful diet while eating at your favorite restaurant or navigating the shelves at your local grocery store.

In a world of fast food, super-sized sodas and televised temptations, it's no wonder childhood obesity has hit the national spotlight.

In honor of Kids Eat Right Month, registered dietitian, Wesley Delbridge, shares ways to raise healthy eaters and set the stage for a lifetime of wellness.

Melanie Cole (Host): Food nutrition and eating skills are among the most important things you can share with children. Healthy eating fuels busy, successful lives and provides the nutrients your kids need to fuel up to play, perform well in school, and grow into healthy adults. My guest is Wesley Delbridge. He’s a registered dietician and a food and nutrition supervisor for the Chandler Unified School District, Food and Nutrition Department. Welcome to the show, Wesley. So, raising healthy eaters in this age of junk food and picky eaters—my kids have so many friends that are picky eaters—how do we get our kids to eat healthy, nutritious food while still making it fun for them to eat and enjoy food?

Wesley Delbridge (Guest): Hi, Melanie. It’s a pleasure to be part of your show, first of all. I think this is such a great topic for all of us that are interested in health and nutrition. The biggest thing that I can tell parents right off the bat is don't stress, because stressing and adding tension to the situation doesn't help it. Raising a healthy eater is a marathon; it’s not a sprint. So these small, little choices, these small, little pieces of advice that I can give you will help you over time create a healthy eater. It won’t happen in a day. It won’t happen in a week. But these little bits of advice are things you can use over time. The first thing that I would recommend is that you allow choices within the boundaries. One of the things that we use at our school district is to allow kids to make healthy decisions within the boundaries that you give them. So you can say, “You’re going to have this vegetable or this vegetable, but you choose,” or “It is snack time, you can have this yogurt or you can have this cheese stick, you choose.” Kids like to feel like they're in control and that they’ve made a part of the decision-making process in what they're eating. So that would probably be the first thing that I would recommend to parents.

Melanie: The autonomy – I love that you start with that because I think the autonomy is so important. If you give a child a choice between a banana and a Hershey bar, of course they're going to pick that. But you're giving them a choice between two vegetables or two dairy products or two something-healthy. That way, they still feel that they've got some control and yet they're picking from both things that are really good choices. Okay, go on with your second tip.

Wesley: The second tip is to create a hands-on experience. Everything should be from the beginning of the food process all the way till the eating process, they should be involved and they should be being educated. Help your kids by letting them grocery shop with you, helping them create dinner lists for the week or snack lists. You can even bring them in and help you prepare certain things, depending on their age and what they can do, and to cook the meals, and use those opportunities as learning tips to create questions and answers and help them feel like they're a part of the dinner or snack or meal-making process. This gives them the buy-in that they want. Kids are very hands-on. They want to see the results of what they're doing. They just don't want to be told what to do. So, being hands-on is probably the highest thing, and all the studies show that kids that are part of the preparation of food increases their fruit and vegetable consumption overall. The other thing that I think people need to look out for—and I think I was raised by this—is being part of the “clean plate club.” We always encourage our kids to clean your plate and don't leave the table until you’ve eaten everything on your plate. I think that this can be a little discouraging to kids and it can actually have a negative consequence. I think we should encourage them to eat until they have full tummies. Kids are better at listening to their body signals than adults. It takes a stomach 10 to 20 minutes to tell the brain, “Hey, I’m full. That’s enough.” What we found is that with the studies that we’ve seen is that 85 percent of the parents try to get kids to eat more than they actually want to eat. So it's a fine line between encouraging choices and encouraging trying foods but also not forcing them to eat more than they're listening to their bodies and actually what they need to eat.

Melanie: And, Wesley, I do like also that you say make them a part of the food process. As you and I discussed a little off the air, my kids start help planting the seeds, planting my vegetables, they have to weed the garden—they don't love that part—but then they get to pick everything. They eat those cherry tomatoes as fast as they come out. Then helping with the process of cooking, preparing, getting it all ready. Now, as someone who works in the schools, do you see that when you're offering vegetables in the school lunches, that the kids are throwing these out in favor of the mac and cheese, or is there a way parents can encourage their children at school to make those healthy choices and actually put them on their plate and eat them instead of trading them away?

Wesley: That’s a fantastic question, Melanie. We’ve had our challenges with getting kids to try fruits and vegetables. As you know, it's a new regulation. They actually have to choose a fruit or vegetable on their tray, and so we’ve tried some different techniques to get them excited about that. One of them is creating online menus with pictures and calling them fun names. Instead of just calling them carrots, we call them “X-ray carrotinis” because then they ask the questions, “Well, why are they called X-ray carrotinis?” “Because they have vitamin A, and that helps you see better.” So you're already helping the child with the benefit process. The other thing that we’ve seen that’s helped a lot is creating full-functioning school gardens so that kids can actually see these fruits and vegetables grow in their school environment, and then they're on their tray. They have more buy-in. Maybe they were a part of the growing process, the watering process, or the fundraising for the school garden. But again, we’ve brought them into the hands-on environment. Also, adding the nutrition education on top of it, being in the classroom, being in the lunchroom, encouraging certain fruits and vegetables for that week or that month. August is also Kids Eat Right month, but it's also National Peach Month. So this month, we’re featuring five different types of peaches up there and supporting that with the education and with the hands-on experience of where they come from.

Melanie: Kids don't always like vegetables as much as they like fruits, Wesley, and they don't always like the vegetables cooked. So do you agree with adding ranch dressing to dip it in or cheese sauce on the broccoli? How can we get them to eat them raw or in the healthiest way possible instead of just always choosing the fruits over the vegetables?

Wesley: That’s an excellent point. Increasing the variety is huge with kids. They’ll have up to 25 percent more consumption when you offer a variety. And you can try different techniques. I’m not going to eat boiled Brussels sprouts, but I’ll try them if they're roasted. So it's the same vegetable, but trying different techniques, trying different seasonings. And you brought up ranch dressing, mac and cheese. In-house, we’ve created our own ranch dressing that’s made with non-fat yogurt, non-fat dry milk powder, and low-sodium ranch seasoning, and we make that in-house and we put it in one-ounce portion cups with the vegetables of the day, and that has doubled our vegetable consumption. So not only is it a good source of protein, it's low in fat. We’ve limited the portion size. They don't have the pour tabs where they can just pour it all over everything. So we’ve added that as a benefit, but it does what we’ve seen as those little benefits, those little sauces, as long as you can make them healthy, they will increase vegetable consumption, especially in its raw state.

Melanie: Now, healthy eating for kids does not only include vegetables and fruits. You mentioned yogurt and cheese. What about meats and fishes, getting our kids to eat fish and try fish and do all the different things, the chickens and things? How do we get them to eat the real healthier choices? Instead of a cheeseburger, maybe try a piece of chicken or a piece of fish?

Wesley: That’s an excellent question. One of the things we’ve done is rather than talk about the word “nutrition,” talk about the word “food.” What we do in the Chandler District, and what I’ve seen a lot of parents do, is actually call it “fuel.” So we say, “Food is the fuel for your bodies, and this is how we need to fuel your bodies. And your body feels good when it's getting the food that it needs as fuel.” And I think it also comes down to exposure. They may not like a certain type of fish on the first try. Most studies show that kids take 12 to 14 times of exposure before they even try it. So, just constantly exposing them to, “Hey, try a bite of this fish, it’s cod, and this is a little story behind it, and this is where it comes from,” or maybe “Try this grilled salmon with your asparagus,” and add different seasonings to it. If they don't like it right away, that’s okay. Again, going back to my first point: don't stress; it might take them 15 to 20 different times. And then also, talking about how we have courtesy bites and our taste buds change, so just constantly encouraging them to grow and change with their taste buds and always trying new things.

Melanie: Great information. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio. For more information, you can go to This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.