July 18, 2012

Crunch a Color with Jennifer Lee {Tales from the Trenches}

Crunch a Color

Today I am chatting with my friend Jennifer Lee, the inventor of the cool award-winning food game Crunch a Color. It is a game you can play with your kids to inspire them to eat healthy food. I’ve been playing it with my daughter and we are having a blast. Because of the game she made her first ever attempt at eating asparagus! She still isn’t sure about the vegetable but I am glad she gave it a try. I loved chatting with Jennifer about the inspiration behind the game and her next move. I also am so glad she enjoyed our Watermelon Lime Ice Pops! Stay tuned tomorrow when I give away five (yes, 5!) copies of the game to five lucky winners.

1) What was your initial inspiration for Crunch a Color?

Like many parents, I struggled to get my kids to eat healthy, balanced meals. I was consistently on the losing end of mealtime battles, plates regularly resembled a barren desert of whiteness, and I was just plain tired of fighting about it anymore. I wanted our family table to be a place where we could enjoy each other’s company and a healthy meal together. My kids love games, so I started there. I couldn’t keep the kale on the table when it was worth 15 points, and the allure of doubling their points for trying a new food turned my kids into new food explorers. By transforming mealtime into a Crunch a Color healthy eating game, it made it fun and rewarding for my kids to eat nutritious meals. The game had the added wonderful benefit of making the dinner table a place where my kids (and I) wanted to be.
2) When you play this game with your kids did they eventually come to enjoy vegetables or is it just a game every time?

My kids still love to play Crunch a Color and they have certainly nominated several new veggies to their favorites list as a result of the game, artichokes and okra among the stars of that list. What has changed is the size of the challenge. Instead of focusing on just one meal, or even one week’s worth of meals, we are working towards bigger healthy eating goals. This month our focus has been on dirtying up our diets. A recent article in The New York Times on how dirt (be it from your garden or the local farmers’ market) is good for your health sparked an interesting debate at our table and resulted in a family food challenge for the month. Each week, in addition to earning our points, we are featuring on the menu at least one dish sourced entirely from our garden. The reward: a garden cooking play date with friends.
3) What is your advice for Mom’s with picky eaters and/or non-vegetable eaters?

Make it fun and easy for your kids to make their own healthy choices and remember you cannot control what your child will choose to eat but you can control the what and how of meals at your table. You can make healthy food fun by cooking together, exploring farmers’ markets, serving locally grown veggies and fruits with every meal and engaging in fun family time at the table. It’s also important to remember to take the long view. Don’t stress over the nutritional merits of an individual meal. Instead, look at how healthy your child is eating over the course of a week.
4) What is coming up after Crunch a Color?

My daughter loves earning bonus points for starting a conversation at the dinner table. Her creative questions have ranged from, “If you could design your dream tree house, what features would it have?” to “How many five syllable words can you think of?” and they always spark a fun discussion at the dinner table. I’ve pulled together the best of her dinner conversation starters for my next game: Crunch a Color Conversation Starters, available now!
5) What are your eating goals for you and your family?

My goal is to make cooking and healthy eating fun for my family and others. With busy schedules, taking time out to cook and enjoy healthy meals together can be tough, but we try to keep at least one weeknight dedicated to “New Food Night.” As a family, we come together to set the menu, cook the meal, and enjoy eating it together. We always include at least one new food that we haven’t tried. It’s a wonderful family tradition. More importantly, it doesn’t need to be complicated to count. Even the simple pleasures of making and enjoying a summer popsicle can be tremendously fun, which we learned while making your sweet watermelon lime ice pops.
6) Okay, please tell us, are there ever nights when you let things slide and you just wing it with dinner?

That happens more often than you’d think! It’s been several times this week that I’ve opened the fridge at the witching hour and pondered, “What can I make in under 15 minutes that’s healthy and my kids will eat?” Here’s how I deal. First, I try to use dishes like building blocks. We made nut free basil pesto for dinner on Monday, and I’ve managed to rework it into several dishes this week. It just saves time. Second, my go-to recipes are simple and flexible. I learned how to make Italian chicken that can easily be changed up with just a few different spices to create a zesty Mexican dish or a soulful Indian chicken curry. My recipe rule is it has to be easy enough for my 5 year old to make and something that the whole family will enjoy. That simple formula keeps me focused on recipes that are tasty and easy to make.
7) Is there any vegetable or color your struggle with? I’ll admit, I struggle with beets. I keep trying them but can’t come around!

Beets are my nemesis. I still won’t sit near them at mealtime and I think I’ve tried them at least 10 times. Maybe I need to prepare them another way? Bonus points for the person who can crack the code on that recipe for me! (Editor’s Note: Triple bonus points for who can crack the code for me too!)