We spoke with Janet Nezon, engaging and innovative educator, change agent, writer, speaker, and founder of Rainbow Plate and Rainbow Food Education. We found out why we all need food education, what parents can do to help their kids eat good food, and some great advice for choosing the best diet for you.
Why do we need food education?
Food connects everything. What we eat impacts our lifelong health and it also reflects and influences every element of the world around us, on a local and a global scale. Food education supports individuals in cultivating a relaxed and positive relationship with food and builds lifelong habits that nurture healthy bodies. At its best, food education also helps foster the development of ambassadors for a healthy and sustainable future.
They’re beautiful. They’re captivating. They make people happy. When it comes to food, there’s a ton of scientific evidence that proves that a rainbow of colourful vegetables and fruit should be the cornerstone of any healthy eating pattern. We all know that eating lots of fruit and vegetables is good for us in so many ways. Rainbows are a way of making that concept simple and fun! The notion of creating a Rainbow Plate every time you eat is a simple and accessible strategy that anyone can put into action.
Kids can be a tough audience. How do you get them engaged and excited about fruits and vegetables?
For starters, we don’t really talk about nutrition or healthy eating, and we don’t tell them “it’s good for you!” We keep things relaxed and upbeat and we let our rainbows of real veggies and fruit engage and excite the kids. It’s so powerful to see the reaction when we unveil the rainbow! Hands-on experiences are the most powerful way to engage anyone with food, and they’re at the heart of everything we do. We also tell stories, sing songs and use rhymes to connect with kids at different ages and stages. We create the context in which kids feel comfortable doing their own exploring; discovering beautiful colours, patterns, textures and shapes, and amazing fragrances and flavours. In the end, this is what creates connection. We eat what appeals to our senses.
How can parents better support children who are picky eaters?
The best thing that parents can do is relax! All kids are different when it comes to food and eating, and all children go through different stages as their relationship with food evolves. This is normal child development. I’m not a fan of labels of any type. When we label a child as “picky” this often becomes a self-fulfilling scenario. Without intending to, parents often begin pressuring kids to eat certain foods, and this usually backfires. Pressure can take many forms and can often be so subtle that we’re not even aware of it. A better approach is to create some predictable structure around meals and snacks and allow kids to help themselves from what’s on offer. The goal is to keep exposing kids to a variety of foods in a relaxed and pressure-free context. It’s important to ensure that meals always include something a child feels comfortable eating, but we also need to nudge them along, to gradually expose them to new and different foods. It can take a long time, but if parents back off, kids eventually move along and broaden their repertoire.
This is such great advice, we couldn’t agree more! Lisa’s self-published children’s book, The Tale of Kale, reminds us all to keep food fun and try new things, again and again!
With so much conflicting advice around which is the optimal diet, what is your personal food philosophy?
My food philosophy is based on stepping away from the microscope and taking a “big picture” look at the way I eat over the long term. This means focusing less on individual nutrients and the details of “what” I eat at any one meal or snack, and more on “how often” I eat certain foods as part of my overall diet pattern. For me this works better than strict diet rules or labeling foods as “good/bad” or “healthy/unhealthy.” Those terms can be tricky to define, and they can carry a lot of emotional baggage. This approach allows room for most foods to fit in and it enables me to relax and roll with the day-to-day reality of my life and all the variables that impact my eating over time.
Of course, rainbows of colourful veggies and fruit are central to most of my meals and snacks. I’ve gradually shifted to an eating pattern that includes less meat and more plant-based meals, but I don’t refer myself as any specific type of eater. I love playing around in the kitchen, so I tend to cook most of our family’s meals from whole food ingredients rather than buying processed or prepared food. Having said that, I don’t believe in an “all or nothing” approach – I do eat pretty much everything! I also do my best to support locally-produced food as much as possible. In the summer our family eats lots of veggies that I grow in our backyard garden. In the end, I believe that we all need to find a way of eating that makes us feel comfortable, healthy and happy; one that we can sustain over the long term.
Do you find social media effective for sharing your message?
Social media is a powerful tool, but it’s only as effective as the way you use it. I’ve certainly had some exciting things happen through my social media channels, (including getting a shout-out from Jamie Oliver!), but like most entrepreneurs, I know I can always do better and improve on the way I’m using these resources to reach my audience. It’s always a learning process.
What’s the most exciting thing happening at Rainbow Plate right now?
We’ve just launched the Rainbow Food Explorers Educator Toolkit! I’m so proud of it. It’s a rich and vibrant resource that captures the essence of Rainbow Plate’s approach and programs. It’s packed with background information, ideas, creative resources, practical tips and simple, hands-on activities to enable educators to bring sensory-based food literacy to life in their own settings. We developed it with early childhood educators in mind, and it’s already being rolled out in George Brown College’s ECE program and all their Lab Schools! We’ve also had an amazing response from kindergarten & primary teachers, dietitians and health educators, who’ve told us that they’re going to be putting it to use in their organizations. I just shipped a copy to an incredible sustainable food market in the UK, where it will be used to inform interactive programming for kids and families! What’s really exciting for me is seeing how the toolkit will enable Rainbow Plate’s powerful approach to reach and impact people on a much larger scale. That’s a lot of beautiful rainbows, and a lot of healthy kids 🙂
Photo by Catherine Farquharson