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Calling All Nutrition Detectives!

Catherine Katz, PhD and her husband, Dr. David Katz, have developed programs and videos to teach kids about nutritious foods.
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By Catherine Katz, PhD

When it comes to kids, I know a thing or 2...or 5! My husband and I have 5 wonderful ones of our own: Rebecca, Corinda, Valerie, Natalia and Gabe, now ranging in age between 15 and 25. He, Dr. David Katz, is a world renowned nutrition and public health expert, and I have gone from being a full time neuroscientist to a full time stay-at-home mom.  Together, we have raised our kids to be healthy, happy eaters!

I have to say that in all those years, the part that was the most challenging was not so much getting our kids to love the food that loves them back! That part was relatively easy, and in fact, it has been the inspiration for my healthy cooking website Cuisinicity, since.

No-the part that was the hardest was dealing with the other kids around them, the majority of whom were happily eating junk food and boasting about it! I bet you know exactly what I mean!

I remember the day Valerie, who was then in 3rd grade, came home from school in tears because the boy sitting next to her at the lunch table had made fun of her healthy lunch.  I seem to remember it wasn’t even so much in response to her lunch being so outrageously healthy (no sushi or tofu in her lunch box, I can assure you!) but more in what wasn’t in her lunch box!

She didn't have any of these fluorescent colored packaged snacks or so-called juice drinks with the cartoon characters, nor was she ever able to proudly contribute any Box Tops to her school like all the other kids. As you can well imagine, I knew I had to do something and went to meet with the teacher the next day.
This teacher, who knew of my husband’s work in nutrition and health, suggested that he come give a lecture to all of the 3rd grade classes…and I thought to myself: great! Now the kids are not only going to make fun of her, they are going to resent her!

As it turns out, I was wrong! I didn’t realize it then, but that was the day our Nutrition Detectives educational program, now available in thousands of elementary schools around the world, was born!
Nutrition Detectives is a fun, interactive program designed to teach children ages 5-14 how to read food labels and empower them to make better choices at the supermarket. The kids just love it because it’s all about “healthy kids having more fun”!

After learning just 5 clues to determine “clued-in” versus “clue-less” choices in prepackaged foods, the kids are divided into nutrition detectives teams assigned to a mission for different categories: breads, crackers, cookies, cereal, chips, cereal bars and peanut butter & spreads (we even have a “special undercover unit” whose secret mission is to pick out “whole grain imposters”).

Each team is assigned a bag of groceries filled with products in one of those categories—some of them healthy, others not so healthy. The object of the game is to determine which are the good “clued-in” vs the bad “clue-less” choices, based on the simple 5 clues they learned.

The response from all the kids that day was outstanding, and it has been replicated over and over again, since: The kids learn to choose the healthier items and in many cases, come to prefer them! The beauty of it is that they bring their knowledge home to their families, too, which makes it that much easier for mom and dad at the supermarket!

This program has become so popular over the years that we made it available on DVD for free in English and Spanish, to teach at home or in the classroom. If you ever need a little hand in getting your kids to eat healthy, feel free, it’s yours!

My husband and I have since developed other educational programs for delivering health-promoting messages to children related to eating better, being more active, and resisting the manipulation of food marketing . The latest, geared toward tweens and teens, is a video series called “Unjunk Yourself” delivering fun, provocative, engaging, health-promoting information in music video format. The latest one, entitled “I’m an Animal!”, was just released recently, so it is with great pride that I pass it on to you and…you’ll be happy to know that our now grown-up Valerie and two of her siblings, Natalia and Gabe, perform in it and are proud to pay it forward!



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