By: PLEZi Nutrition Team Read Time: 3 minutes

We’re excited to share another addition of our Table Talk series, where we connect with health experts, dietitians, and parenting pros on all things related to kids’ health and nutrition. 

This time we got a chance to hear from Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. She is a member of our Kitchen Cabinet, a physician, and health policy expert. She led the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for many years, served on the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition under President Obama, and so much more. Check out her tips and insights below, and feel free to DM us with more questions over at @plezinutrition!

Q: Any advice for talking to kids about eating healthy that won’t just turn them away?

Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey: When I’m talking to children about choosing healthy foods to eat, I try to connect healthy eating to things that kids value. I emphasize that eating healthy foods helps kids grow, get strong, have brains that grow, and learn and do the things that they want to do. I try to find opportunities to point out and praise them for making healthy choices. For example, “Great choice, that (fill in the blank) is going to give you the energy dance!” Often providing a litany of things they shouldn’t eat is a turn off and they shut down.

Q: Looking for tips to help get my kids to eat more veggies. Should I just hide them in pasta sauce or other foods?

Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey: Getting kids to eat vegetables can be difficult and frustrating. And while sometimes there’s a temptation to hide the vegetables in pasta sauce or under the mashed potatoes, I tried to take a different approach which worked for my picky eater. My approach was to keep searching until I found one or two vegetables that my son liked and use that as proof that he could enjoy vegetables! So when I found that he would eat celery with a dab of peanut butter, I celebrated and went on the search to find another vegetable that he would eat. It turned out thinly sliced radishes worked, and so I kept building from those two until we had a few vegetables he would eat raw and a handful that he would eat cooked. Truth be told spinach never made it to the list!

Q: Why do my kids always go for the extra sweet and salty things? 

Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey: Kids will naturally reach for salty and sugary foods, because their brains are wired to do so. This was helpful millions of years ago when salt and sugar were hard to come by, but now that they are ubiquitous, we have to work to make them less available in our children’s environment. So try not to keep sugary and salty foods around all the time. Buy sugary and salty foods infrequently and make them available only for special occasions, but don’t deprive your kids of them altogether. Learning to eat some foods infrequently is part of developing healthy habits. Keep in mind that most processed and ultra-processed foods have hidden salt and sugar as part of their ingredients.

Editorial note: Check out our post on reading Nutrition Facts labels here so you can spot the sodium and added sugar when you’re looking at products to buy.

Q: Are there policies I can or should support as a parent to help improve my kids’ health?

Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey: When prioritizing policies that can help keep our children healthy, I think we get the biggest bang from those policies which ensure that our children’s environments are healthy. So work on policies that will guide schools, daycare centers, camps, and other places where kids spend a lot of time to serve healthy foods that conform to evidence-based nutrition guidelines. And please don’t neglect policies that promote lots of opportunities for physical activity. Kids need to be active, preferably outside, in order to develop strong muscles, bones, eyes, and brains!

Q: How can I get involved in changing policy?

Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey: I think a great way to start changing policies that will benefit children’s health in a relatively short amount of time is to focus on school policies. Most school policies are determined locally, and children spend the bulk of their waking hours at school, so making these environments healthy for children is critical. And, of course, you know your local community and which policies will or won’t work better than someone who is not a part of the community.