Picnic-play-food-basket In response to the last post, Food, Mood, Behavior and Learning: What Are You Feeding Your Childen?, Karen asked, "Any suggestions on how to encourage this on a child's level? A mother of one of my 5 year olds students has asked if I would ever touch on nutrition in class…I would love to be able to bring this into a lesson. Thanks!!" 

Karen makes a great point.  I feel the nutrition component is severely neglected in importance in both adult and children's yoga education. What we eat has everything to do with how we feel, think and behave.  As kids yoga teachers, we can't control what is being served at home, but we have a responsibility to educate our students about nutrition and making healthy food choices.

Here is a game my younger students have enjoyed, suitable for the 2 – 9+ age range.

The Picnic Game

Materials Needed: A bunch of plastic pretend food of varying kinds (healthy and not so healthy – our set has fruits, veggies and grains, but also donuts, hotdogs, etc.) and a big sheet or small parachute as the 'picnic blanket.'

1) Place all the food items under the blanket. Everyone holds an area of the outer edge of the blanket.

2) Chanting the following, the children lift the 'blanket' (actually a lightweight sheet or parachute) then let it fall while one child crawls underneath to QUICKLY to grab a piece of food and crawl back out before the blanket comes back down.

Good food, good food,
That's good for me.
(lift the blanket up)
(Slight pause…)
Good food, good food,
What's it gonna be!?
(let the blanket fall)

The goal is to quickly go under and choose a HEALTHY food and return to their spot before the blanket falls. If the blankets comes down to cover the child first, he must put back the food item (this part is optional).

3)  The children take turns in clockwise order until all the food is gone.

4)  Sitting on the 'blanket' with individual food choices near, a discussion then ensues about each child's choices – led mostly by the children with the teacher facilitating what makes a healthy food choice and how various choices can affect how we feel. The kids typically have great stories about eating too many donuts and feeling horrible, etc. Simply help them to make those connections.  (I always ask a lot of questions and let them do the connecting!)  Keep in mind that even the 'bad' foods are okay in moderation (see this great post at The Prana Mama about that very idea).  After all, what's a picnic without a hotdog? 

5)  If there's time, each child can create his own pose to represent the food item/s he chose. Banana for example could be Crescent Moon pose or whatever shape the child's imagination can create. You can have all the children try out the new 'food' poses being demonstrated, or you can simply have them take turns showing off their creations. In any case, you are incorporating a great physical practice while boosting self-esteem and creativity.

6)  Tie-in the learning with a end of class project such as a related coloring page or craft. You can find many nutrition education-based coloring pages by doing a google search for 'kids nutrition coloring pages.'  Or bring in a bunch of grocery ad fliers and various household magazines and have the children cut out healthy food choices and paste them on a USDA food pyrmamid hand out such as this one (you can also use it as a coloring page) – or create your own and make copies.

For older children, this handout can serve as a nice 1pg. overview and discussion starter.  Another idea is to have them really think about various foods, their qualities and how they might effect mood, etc.  This is a great journaling exercise.  And finally, you could absolutely play the Picnic with older children, challenging them to choose items to create a balanced meal.

What other ideas do you have for sharing nutrition education in with children at home and in your classes?  Do you have suggestions for other great hand outs, discussion starters, tools?  Please share them by commenting here.