TasteMakers: Jennifer Tyler Lee

Jennifer Tyler Lee TasteMakers Portrait

Jennifer Tyler Lee is on a mission to prove that getting your kids to eat healthy can be simple and fun. She knows that changing the way we eat is a multi-layered, complex problem, but, with a little creativity and a simple change at the dinner table, this Mom of two has been successful in getting her own kids (as well as many others) to eat healthier. She came up with a fun, engaging food-related card game that her kids immediately took to and eventually evolved into Crunch a Color™.

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work to help kids eat healthier so I know first hand that get them excited about nutritious foods can be a struggle. What I loved about Jennifer’s idea, is that she came up with such a fabulously simple solution. Jennifer’s aim was to make a game that would accomplish three things: bring the family together, put the kids in control, and, of course, be fun for everyone. She’s more than accomplished all three and, as a result, has quickly garnered a lot of attention.

But that’s more than enough from me: here’s a bit from Jennifer about her healthy-eating philosophy and how Crunch a Color™ came to be. Be sure to check back tomorrow, when Jennifer shares a broiled asparagus recipe that’s quickly become a favorite in her family.

Crunch A Color Deck

Q: Give us a bit about your background: how did you end up on the path you are on?

A: I started out in a very different place than I am today. I spent the first ten years of my career dabbling in strategy consulting and web startups. I left it all behind (without any regret) to be home with my kids.

Q: What is Crunch a Color™?

A: Crunch a Color™ is an award-winning healthy eating game that makes mealtime fun. Kids earn points for eating a balanced and colorful plate of veggies, fruits, proteins and grains. Kids learn to choose nutritious foods for themselves and mealtime at the family table becomes a pleasure for everyone. Crunch a Color™ is also a proud supporter of non-profit children’s nutrition programs including Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and FoodCorps.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Crunch a Color™?

A: I didn’t set out to create a product. Like most parents, I simply needed a way to get my kids to eat healthy, balanced meals! When my daughter was two she ate everything, but by the time she was five her plate was white. Mac ‘n Cheese with Peas was a regular menu item at dinner and mealtime was a terrible struggle. My kids love games, so I started there. I wanted to make it fun and rewarding for my kids to try new, healthy foods. That’s the core of why the game has made such a difference for families, mine included. It puts kids in control of their own healthy choices and it makes healthy eating fun for everyone.

Crunch-A-Color Main Cards

Q: How does Crunch a Color™ play into a family’s healthy-eating plan?

A: The beauty of Crunch a Color™ is that it’s simple and easy. Parents easily work the game into their regular dinner routine. The added bonus: it gets the whole family eating healthy. Parents write to me thrilled that they’re eating healthier along with their kids – partly because they are changing what’s on the table as a result of the game and partly because they are playing along with their kids.

Q: What is your family-eating perspective? 

A: Have fun enjoying colorful meals together. I find it’s most fun (and effective) for kids to focus on colors. When the kids are focused on eating colors, they will naturally start to eat more veggies and fruit. We also value time together as a family – cooking, eating and sharing stories at the table. With busy schedules, taking time out for dinners 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 (see Jennifer’s daughter, Catherine, cooking below), and enjoy eating it together. We always include at least one new food that we haven’t tried. It’s a wonderful family tradition.

Catherine Cooking

Q: What is your food philosophy when it comes to children?

A: Make it fun and easy for them to make their own healthy choices and remember you cannot control what your child will eat. However, you can make healthy food fun by cooking together, exploring farmers’ markets together, and engaging in fun family time at the table.

Q: Which are the top issues you hear parents dealing with when it comes to feeding their kids?

A: Control. Parents want their children to eat healthy. Kids want attention from their parents. In many cases, food struggles are control struggles.

Q: What is the best way to introduce them to new foods?

A: Introducing new foods depends on age, but for elementary school children I think the best way to introduce new foods is by letting them discover veggies and fruits at farmers markets, in your garden, or by trying new recipes.

Q: What would be a perfect family meal to you?

A: One where everyone has a hand in bringing the meal together – from setting the menu to cooking the meal and sharing stories at the table.

James and Catherine

Q: How do you ensure you’re giving your kids a nutritionally sound meal?

A: I use a simple formula that’s easy for kids to remember: 3 colors + 1 protein. Encouraging kids to pile high colorful veggies and fruit on their plate and include a healthy protein with each snack or meal is really important for keeping their growing bodies balanced. My kids never seem to struggle with healthy grains, so I rarely focus on that.

Q: What are your top tips for parents of picky eaters?

A: Be flexible and make it fun. If your child is only eating cheese pizza, don’t expect them to jump overnight to being a 3-color eating, protein-powered nutritional superstar. The game design is flexible, because what works for one child might not for the other. With super picky eaters, it’s helpful to modify the rules in the early stages of play to make it more achievable for them – go for one color plus a protein on the first night, add two colors on the next night, and so on.

Q: What is your hope for the future of Crunch a Color™?

A: I’ve learned that the best kinds of businesses are the one’s that start from something you care deeply about, not a business plan. I’m not sure where Crunch a Color™ will go from here, but I’m enjoying the ride.

To learn more about Jennifer and Crunch a Color™, check out the site, like the Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter .

TasteMakers is a monthly interview series with people who have inspired me. My hope is to share some of their wisdom with you.

Columns Finds TasteMakers