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The Benefits of Taste Tests and Other Playful Modes of Nutrition Education

Last week I wanted to buy the Cheez-Its® made with whole grain, but I didn’t want to compromise on taste—not for me and not for my husband. So I figured, “Hey, let’s do a taste test! That way I could report back my findings to y’all. I am a dietitian after all.”

I found the made with whole grain Cheez-Its® to be very yummy, tasting only slightly different from the original Cheez-Its®. Albeit, the nutrition content wasn’t very different either. For more on that, watch:

But the results of my taste test were not as meaningful as the logic behind why I decided to do a taste test in the first place.

The strengths of doing taste tests and other playful ways to cultivate greater health-consciousness:

My nutrition philosophy is to be open to trying new foods, not to force people to eat the healthiest foods all the time. This philosophy is one that has evolved, since, as I noted in my previous post, I used to be much more of a stickler to eating “the perfect plate”—an idea that doesn’t really exist and only drove me crazy and impeded my personal happiness.

When I was still in a more “eat this, not that” mindset, I remember having lunch with a dietitian and her family and feeling uncomfortable when I saw her serve white rice to her kids. She said her daughter didn’t like brown rice and it wasn’t the end of the world, there are other healthy foods she can eat. While I still plan on serving brown rice and other whole grains (whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, etc.) in my own home, I only appreciated this dietitian’s philosophy a few years later, after I had my nutrition paradigm shift. Having taken multiple graduate courses in the interrelationship of food with the environment, socioeconomic status, culture, and policy, I realized that eating a healthy diet is not ONLY about what a person puts on their plate, and that there are numerous factors that influence our food choices besides personal choice. This realization helped me let go of my perfectionist eating tendencies and accept a more balanced and moderate view (nutrition 101 is all about balance and moderation ;) ).

And that is why in my nutrition philosophy, I do not want to cultivate the “good food/bad food” mentality that I personally developed in my adolescent years. That, and the fact that, as a kid, eating healthy food was fun and natural. My dad never said, “Eat your carrots!” Instead, I would ask him questions about the blurb I read in his nutrition newsletter (and he got many!) about the health benefits of vitamin A and how carrots are orange because they contain beta-carotene.

My happy, healthy memories of nutrition growing up occurred when my own intrinsic curiosity was being nurtured by my parents. Later, in high school, my mom and dad would cut out articles about nutrition from the New York Times and put them on my bed—they knew I would be interested and excited to learn more.

My above experiences are why I promote cultivating curiosity! For example, instead of telling a nine-year-old client, “Don’t drink soda,” I will show him a chart comparing the amount of sugar in different sugar-sweetened beverages to that in water (zero).

I will ask clients, “Can you count how many spoons of sugar are in apple juice?” They will then count it up. Most of the time, they respond something like, “Whoa, that is a lot.” And if they think it is only a moderate amount I show them further visuals of what it really looks like and they get the message that there is a lot of sugar in these drinks. Thus, I provide teachable moments of inquiry, where the child, and parent, can see for themselves how much sugar there is. I don’t need to force it down their throats (no pun intended).

In nutrition education, and in education in general, I think we would benefit from focusing more on children’s (and all people’s) intrinsic curiosity about the world, rather than seeing them as blank slates that “need to be educated.”

Today I did a taste test on Cheez-Its®, but the possibilities for how one can make nutrition education more playful and fun are endless. And the results will be more positive and longer-lasting!

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