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Montreal Families

Learning about healthy food can be fun

For kids, Halloween is mainly about one thing — candy. And as they return home laden with goodies, parents must figure out a way to supervise the consumption of these unhealthy treats (quite often for months at a time). Not surprisingly, parents sometimes shake their heads in discouragement, wondering why their children can’t get as excited about broccoli and rice cakes! In anticipation of this sugar overload, why not pick up some books that give a fresh look at nutrition and healthy food? While it’s unlikely the kids will completely forgo their stash of sugary treats, they might at least start thinking about how to bring a certain balance to their eating habits.

Play PumpkinsPlay With Your Pumpkins (General Publishing, $17.95), Fast Food (Scholastic, $16.99) and Food Play (Chronicle, $18.95) by Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann – All ages

If anyone can make food fun, it’s authors Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann. This duo has been concocting and photographing imaginative food creatures for years, making dogs, sheep and snowmen out of every possible variety of fruits and vegetables. Around Halloween time, you can check out Play with Your Pumpkins for enough design ideas (some of which don’t even require carving) to create an entire pumpkin village for your front porch. To introduce your children to a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, take a peek at Fast Food, which features rhubarb sailboats and banana gondolas, or Food Play, which is filled with page after page of screaming oranges, grinning onions, bok choy fish and laughing apples. These books will encourage kids to see their fruits and veggies in a whole new light and maybe even help them taste a few. Let’s face it, it is more fun to eat a laughing apple and feel it giggling in your tummy than a plain old green thing with tough skin.

Growing Vegetable Soup (Harcourt, $7.95) by Lois Ehlert – Ages 3-6

To pique children’s interest in food, author Lois Ehlert takes her readers through the entire journey of how a bowl of vegetable soup ends up in their tummies. A father and son plant seeds in their garden and patiently wait for the plants to grow. Then they harvest the ripe and colourful vegetables, chop them up and throw them into a big pot to make a wonderful vegetable soup. The book is as much about the patience and the miracles of nature, as it is about the role we can play in growing food. It conveys to the reader that time, love and a bit of spice are all the ingredients needed for creating a delicious meal, even one made with vegetables.

YumYum: Your Ultimate Manual to Nutrition (Lobster Press, $16.95) by Daina Kalnins – Ages 8-12.

Daina Kalnins is a dietician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and, in this practical and informative manual, she tries to drive home the message that healthy eating habits need to be instilled at an early age. She provides concrete information on how to read food labels, offers, descriptions of various vitamins and minerals and gives examples of healthy food menus. She also emphasizes the vital connection between nutrition and exercise and how both are required for staying healthy. Although the book is jammed with insightful facts, there aren’t that many creative ideas on how to make healthy food more palatable for kids. However, as an introduction to basic nutrition, the book does its job, helping parents and kids understand why eating well and exercising should be a priority.

Everything but the Kitchen SinkEverything but the Kitchen Sink (Scholastic, $9.99) by Frieda Wishinsky and Elizabeth MacLeod – Ages 5-9

The subtitle of this is book is: Weird stuff you didn’t know about food, which sums up the book perfectly. The authors provide a bevy of strange facts about the food we consume everyday. They also teach us about history, describing how the search for spices inspired the sea voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan. Readers will also learn about food superstitions. (For example, in Cambodia if you eat before your elders, you’ll come back as a dog in your next life.) Kids love anything weird and wonderful and maybe they’ll be more thankful for the food in front of them knowing that if they were in another country they might be snacking on roasted ants rather than carrot sticks.

Eyewitness Guide to FoodEyewitness Guide to Food (Dorling Kindersley, $19.99) – Ages 7-12

The “Eyewitness Guide” books are excellent reference tools for children, covering a wide range of subjects, and this one on food doesn’t disappoint. It’s filled with bright photographs that clearly illustrate topics such as allergies, toxins and genetically modified foods. One of the best sections covers the cultural customs associated with food. Children will learn that eating means much more than simply chewing and swallowing. Through photos of harvest feasts and food-centered holidays, children will see that food is a precious part of our existence and should not be squandered, but rather enjoyed and savoured. They will gain a new found appreciation for mealtime, and hopefully, they will be inspired to taste some new or unusual food.

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