War and Peas: Getting Kids To Eat Healthy

At a time of rising rates of childhood obesity, choosing healthful options for our kids' snacks is even more important. Getting them to choose good-for-you snacks for themselves can also be tricky.

11 News went straight to the experts, a group of second and third graders, and found that a few simple changes to the appearance of a healthful snack can make a difference.

After working up an appetite playing duck-duck-goose, students in the after-school program at Taylor Elementary School are ready for snack time.

The menu includes apples, cheese, milk, Cheetos and orange soda. The students get to decide what to eat and drink. The goal of the experiment is to determine if the food's appearance plays into the kids' decisions.

The class is divided in half. For the first group, apple slices and cheese cubes are laid out on a white, paper plate, and the milk is poured into clear, plastic cups.

The Cheetos are dished up on a blue platter, and the orange soda is poured into blue cups with bendy straws.

The students grab their snacks and sit down. Out of the six kids, the majority went for the junk food. Only a few students opted for the more healthful snack.

For the second group, the healthful snack gets a makeover. The apples and cheese have been cut into shapes, and the milk is poured into the blue cups with bendy straws. Meanwhile, the presentation of the junk food is toned down. Will the change in appearance, change the outcome?

The Cheetos still won by a landslide, but the students said the shapes did make the decision difficult. As for the drinks, the bendy straws seem to work; four out of the six kids reached for the milk.

One way kids are getting more used to grabbing healthful food is because some parents don’t allow junk food at home. In fact, the parents 11 News spoke with are working to cut out the junk, and offering more healthful snacks at home, even if it's less convenient.

"If you cut up fruit, they'll grab it. If you cut up vegetables and leave it on the counter, they're like little ants, they'll just walk by and grab something," said Heather Lawrence, mother of a second grader. "It's normal at our house."

"We keep fresh fruit around most often," said Ken Charron, the dad of a third grader.

"Parents are realizing that it's a little bit simpler to prepare a healthy snack than it is to throw a bag of Cheetos in their lunch," said Christina Murphy, a group leader for the after-school program.

Even if you find preparing healthful snacks can be more time-consuming, 11 News talked to Registered Dietitian Sheryl Stampher at Memorial Hospital, who suggests that when time is short try reaching for those 100 Calorie packs.

Stampher tells 11 News childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last 30 years. She says often the foods that are most appealing to kids are the least nutritious.

"Fat does make food taste good and it adds a lot of flavor," said Registered Dietitian Sheryl Stampher.

Stampher says parents can make simple changes at home when it comes to meal-time that will improve the health of their children.

"There are plenty of ways to make food appealing to children that's still healthy food," said Stampher.

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