By Kate Tobiasson, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The truth is, lots of kids are picky eaters. To fully support both physical and mental health, growing children need to eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Unfortunately, picky eaters aren’t getting what they need. Local physical education teacher and health coach, Matt Travis, is working to help families change the way they think about food.
“Some parents admit that this is a battle they don’t want to pick,” Travis said. “My response when I hear that is, ‘What other battle is there?’
“The first thing that I want parents to know that it is more about adding in healthy stuff than removing the unhealthy. The reason that is so important is because most of the time our kids are extremely nutrient deficient. The building blocks that growing bodies need are missing. We need to make sure that kids are getting the things that they need while they’re growing and developing.”
Travis earned his master’s degree in physical education, and works as the physical education teacher at the Annie B. Fales Elementary School in his hometown of Westborough. Committed to helping families, he also works part-time as a wellness coach. His enthusiasm and energy for the topic is contagious, paralleled only by his extensive knowledge and experience. Travis has helped countless families develop better eating habits.
“Parents stress that kids are eating certain good or bad foods, but really the focus should be on how do we add in more vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats,” Travis said. “That starts with giving kids the experience and opportunity to try new foods. Parents might try once to give their kids a new food, and then they will say, ‘Oh man, my kid doesn’t like that.’ But that’s not the way that growing works! We need to continually try things with experience and opportunities. It can take 20-30 opportunities for us to try a food before we know if we like it.”
A parent of two young boys, Travis knows from firsthand experience that getting small children to try new foods isn’t easy.
He explained, “One of the rules in our house is that you don’t have to eat it, but you do have to try it. This gives kids both the power to say ‘no,’ and the opportunity to try a food.”
Eating a diet low in healthy nutrients can cause children to suffer from malnutrition. Surprisingly, their bodies may not show the detriments of their diet; instead, kids can exhibit higher levels of aggression, hyperactivity and anxiety, or struggle to learn in school. Travis witnesses these struggles first hand as a physical education teacher, and is committed to helping families incorporate nutrition into their busy schedules.
“When parents ask me what their kids need, for anything in life – from food, to fitness, to academics – what they need is opportunity and variety,” he explained.
Each day, there are plenty of opportunities for children to add in healthy foods. For breakfast, Travis recommends making smoothies together, as a way of introducing fun and variety into morning routines.
“You can let them choose the foods that they’re putting in. The first day, your child might only choose a banana. The next time, you could choose one fruit and they choose another one; this is building a relationship about food, together. Starting this from a young age is ideal, but it is never too late to change!” he laughed.
Additionally, trying out new ways of cooking can help children to enjoy new foods.
“When it comes to dinner time, we fill the plate with healthy options,” he noted. “Kids might say they don’t like broccoli raw, but then you can steam it, roast it or sautee it with different spices.”
Travis said that often the problem is really with the adults, not the children.
“[Adults] have never been challenged to think about what they’re eating and it is harder to change,” he said. “The truth is that parents worry about what encouraging healthy eating might mean for them…. Again, I’d say that same rule applies – it is more about adding in the healthy than removing the unhealthy.”