Jennifer Tyler Lee is the creator of the fun healthy-eating game for kids, Crunch a Color. This innovative game gives kids points for eating “colors” (code word for fruits and vegetables), and brings some gamification to the dinner table.
Late in 2014, her new book The 52 New Foods Challenge was published, based on some of the same concepts but bringing the challenge to the whole family. I recently had the opportunity to discuss the book with Jennifer, and much of her story resonated with me. I also have two young picky-eaters (although at 3 and 5, mine are a tad younger than hers) and I struggle to get them to eat healthy and try new foods.
As stated on the companion website 52newfoods.com, Jennifer’s games and book offer an “easy way to end battles over broccoli, break your recipe rut, and get your whole family eating healthy, one new food at a time!” Sounds pretty great huh?
Put the kids in charge
This is one of the main themes of the book, and it makes a ton of sense! So many of my battles with my kids stem from me trying to coerce them into doing something only to have them dig their heels in in refusal. By taking on the challenge as a family and putting them in charge, we might just find ourselves on the same side of the table when it comes to healthy eating.
In the intro to the the book, Jennifer talks about taking the battle out of it. So, if I agree with my kids that we’ll try a new food every week, let them pick it and prepare it together – then we’ve met our weekly goal. Forcing them to actually eat it is not necessary. As time goes by, the more involvement and leadership they have, the more likely they are to actually put these new foods in their mouths.
Another great “lightning strike” I got from the book is that I don’t have to revamp their eating all at once. By just picking one new food each week (or one familiar food prepared in a new way – I love this!!!), we can consider ourselves successful. And rather than invite the kids into the kitchen to “help” on a busy weeknight, Jennifer suggests making a project of the shopping and cooking, even laying out all the tools and steps like I would for a family craft project. Another great idea!
Eating with the seasons
The book includes a list of 52 foods to try in the year, grouped by season. So you can start this challenge any time of the year, slowly working your way down the list of fruits and vegetables with a new food each week. As someone living in a cold climate, I find myself so much less inspired by the winter produce in the grocery store than when I’m shopping in our local farmers market in the summer, where the colors and flavors are literally bursting from the stalls! And I’ve found that my kids are the same – they love picking up new and interesting veggies at the farmers markets, and I never say no to juicy tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers. In fact, it’s common for them to bite into a peach or a strawberry at our local CSA pickup before I’ve even put it in our basket. But in the grocery store, they are drawn more to the racks of fishy-crackers and chocolate bars than the produce on shelves out of their reach.
I am definitely planning to do this challenge with my family, but to get easier adoption from the whole family I’m going to wait and start in July, when the local produce is in full swing! That way we can add some purpose to our weekly Saturday morning walk to the farmers market.
Great recipes and lots of support
Both in the book and on the Crunch a Color blog, Jennifer offers tons of support for the challenge in the form of simple, inspiring and delicious recipes that use each of the in-season ingredients in the challenge (brussels sprout chips, anyone?). I have already started to leaf through the book, pick out recipes that I know will speak to my family, and prepare them alongside my kids.
And the tips for parents are great, too. They cover ideas for how to shop, cook and eat with your kids. A couple I really love:
- No sneaking in healthy ingredients. Jennifer explains why sneaking healthy ingredients into recipes is actually counterproductive when it comes to dealing with a picky eater.
- “Gateway foods.” In the book, Jennifer offers suggestions of more adventurous new ingredients that can be paired with kid-approved “gateway” ingredients as a way of introducing new foods. So pair blueberries (gateway) with mangos (new) to make a blueberry-mango salad.
I really can’t say enough good things about this book. Each time I pick it up and read a new page or land upon a new recipe, I am inspired by new ways to introduce healthy variety to my kids. And I really think this is a book that will grow with us over the years.