Arielle "Dani" Lebovitz, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDCES, Founder of Kid Food Explorers, gives DeliveryRank the opportunity to delve a little deeper into this funky little enterprise that is taking kids eating by storm.
Kid Food Explorers came together at a time when I was working on three different programs simultaneously: I was leading a pediatric nutrition and fitness program on a military base, volunteering at the local Boys & Girls Club teaching food education, and working on my master’s degree in health communications.
Dedicating time to these three programs taught me to identify best practices in the development of food education for children. I learned first-hand where their knowledge was limited, how children receive information based on environmental and cognitive factors, and ways to support their education from a developmental standpoint rooted in evidenced based research.
I wrote my Masters thesis devising an intervention program that would integrate food and nutrition education into k-5 classroom curriculum standards. By creating a hands-on, food positive approach to teaching kids about food and nutrition, we foster their natural curiosity to learn more, and help them develop a life-long healthy relationship with food. This is how the idea of Kid Food Explorers was born.
First, we need to define and understand what ‘diet culture’ is to recognize how it affects our children. The term ‘diet culture’ is rooted in the belief that health is associated with thinness and includes a moral hierarchy of foods as well as body shapes and sizes. ‘Diet culture’ is pervasive and may be hard to detect as it is often accepted as a social norm and a big part of how we talk about health.
‘Diet culture’ for adults may look like worshiping thinness, using fat-phobic language, oppressing people in larger bodies, demonizing foods, and creating a food hierarchy. It’s an expectation of how we should look and how we should eat to be most accepted. ‘Diet culture’ for children may look like labeling foods “good” versus “bad,” making comments about body shapes, sizes, or how a child eats, and pressuring a child to eat certain foods because it is “good” for them.
We absolutely see ‘diet culture’ in many ways with current food education practices. These messages of fear, shame, pressure, and guilt trickle down through well-meaning parents and educators, negatively highlighting certain foods and creating harmful associations with body shapes and sizes. As a result, children may experience disordered eating and/or body dissatisfaction in an effort to attain a desired and accepted appearance.
We can help our children develop a healthy relationship with food using a nutrition curriculum developed from a food positive and body positive perspective.
My fundamental approach for feeding kids is all about creating child-led, hands-on food exploration opportunities, shaping the foundation for a lifetime of happy and healthy eating. I’m on a mission to make food fun because I believe the way to a kids’ stomach is through their hearts and minds.
Instead of expecting specific preferences, I encourage kids to explore different foods and flavors. Instead of expecting clean plates, I celebrate their curious palates. My goal is to grow confident and competent eaters by fostering a love of learning and discovery. Helping kids engage with food at their own pace without pressure or guilt, helps them learn to listen to their bodies, form positive eating habits, and develop a healthy relationship with food.
I always say that we want to be courteous but not cater. What does this mean? This means that I only prepare one meal for the entire family, but I always offer something at that meal that I know my child likes - a safe food. My kids choose what they want to eat based on what I have offered. I also like to take my kids flavor and texture preferences into consideration as I’m preparing the meal. If I know they don’t like spicy flavors, I may add the extra spice to my dish at the table. I also recommend that families have a meal alternative for really hard nights – it’s a zero prep accepted food but not a favorite, like plain yogurt or a tuna packet.
My goal is to have a New York Times best-selling children's book that celebrates food and bodies in a way that is free of diet culture. I also hope to create hands-on food and nutrition education that can be integrated into the K-5 curriculum helping kids build food trust and body trust while developing a life-long healthy relationship with food.
If you would like to know more about Kid Food Explorers, visit https://kidfoodexplorers.com/ or follow on https://www.instagram.com/kid.food.explorers/