The calorie game

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In these times, I guarantee that kids will receive little instruction on nutrition. The “healthy” lunches of our time — often lacking in necessary calories, in my view — do not come with explanations or instructions. The curricula don’t leave enough time to teach handwriting or geography, much less nutrition.

My own kids learned about nutrition at home and I am going to suggest adding this to summer learning projects. When my kids were little, my husband and I would play a game at dinner where everyone had to guess the nutritional information on cans and boxes. How much fat? How much sat fat? How much sodium? How many carbohydrates? How many calories per serving? How much fiber? How much vitamin C? One person would hold the noodle box and the others would guess. Parents played too. We didn’t hammer home a set of rules. We just played a guessing game.

Some good critical thinking questions come out of games like this, such as the following: What do you think the serving size will be for this number of calories? Why do you think they picked that serving size? Is that what people really eat? Why do “sugars” and “carbohydrates” end up being almost the same numbers? Why doesn’t this have fiber? Are the beans in the bag healthier than the beans in the can?

We played this game for some months. Eventually, boredom set in when we had mostly mastered the numbers for the products found in our home. The kids learned a lot. We managed to have conversations about healthy eating without preaching. The game provided a jumping off place for short side discussions about topics like the role of fiber in diet and why too much sat fat could be unhealthy.

Eduhonesty: Nutritional awareness ought to be taught at home. Kids may not get this instruction in school, or may receive such an abbreviated lesson that the information will not stick. I don’t care if my kids eat ice cream sometimes — my parents seem to be living on it in their old age — but I do want them to understand why they need to throw some fruits and vegetables into the mix and why they will benefit from a variety of foods.

The food game can also help kids learn to ask questions about the world. Any family game that gets kids to ask questions about why or how things work has to be a win. Questions without obvious answers can lead to family internet searches that teach search strategies, allowing kids to learn how to learn — a skill that will prove invaluable throughout their lives.