Kai Nunziato-Cruz was just nine years old when he realized that he and his parents knew something that most of his friends and their families didn’t. Eating healthy makes kids feel better! And when kids understand the science of why some foods are better than others, Kai says making healthy choices is a lot more fun for the whole family.
“When I would eat something spicy, like a bag of Takis, with my friends, I thought they tasted great with the first bite,” said 12- year-old Kai. “But after a few more bites, I could almost taste the chemicals. Then, if I ran afterwards like at recess, I’d get a stomach ache. My mom showed me all the chemicals in a snack like that, and I knew my friends had no idea. I told my moms I wanted to write a book that kids could read and understand why eating healthy makes you feel better.”
It took almost two years of Kai journaling and story-boarding with his moms to get the topics just right for his book, Digest this Now for Kids! ($6.99 Amazon Kindle). His goal was to help kids learn about the reasons that everyone always talks about eating healthy.
Kai’s moms are both in the healthcare industry- one a gastroenterologist and the other a holistic nutrition consultant. But Kai and his moms admit that healthy eating wasn’t always a priority in their family.
“When I was three years old, my moms would take me to McDonalds every Friday as a treat,” Kai remembered fondly. “I don’t remember what I ate exactly, but I remember I loved it. And I threw a fit in my car seat when they stopped taking me. I would get so angry.”
Kai’s mom, Tina Nunziato, laughed and said it was more than a fit. “He screamed, banged his head and couldn’t be consoled any time we’d refuse to stop at a McDonald’s,” Tina said. “That’s when I knew we had created a big problem, and we needed to make some drastic changes.”
Tina explained that they started by cutting out junk foods at home and slowly cutting out meats for meals. It wasn’t easy, but they were determined. And by the time Kai started elementary school, the entire family of two adults and four kids was eating “clean.”
“Clean just means natural,” said Kai. “And I was young, so I didn’t miss the bad stuff as much.”
“We realized that we weren’t too late with Kai, his older sister, or even us,” said Tina. “One change at a time was how we managed it. We started by back meats; cooking a wider variety or grains and greens; and introducing new foods all the time. We cook one meal, and everyone is expected to eat what’s cooked. No excuses. And with Kai’s twin sisters, eating clean is all they know.”
When Digest this Now for Kids! was published earlier this year, Kai held a book signing at his school, and kids have asked about his favorite foods and recipes. “So, I decided to start a YouTube channel, GenerationKai, where I talk about stuff and share recipes like my vegetable smoothie,” Kai explained.
When he goes to friends’ houses, Kai says he doesn’t make a huge deal about food. “Some things my moms don’t buy but it tastes really good, so I eat it when it’s offered. But a lot of times, I already know what ingredients are in it, and it’s kind of disgusting. Even birthday cake tastes great the first couple of bites, but after that, it’s too sweet.”
Kai sheepishly admits that he has one weakness which his moms allow him to enjoy at restaurants. “I love chicken and ribs,” exclaimed Kai. “I know when we go out to eat that my moms will let me order meat if I want it.”
Tina explains that they follow a loose 80/20 rule with Kai and his siblings. It’s okay to indulge in a craving, and kids should be adventurous and try new things. Just don’t overdo it and balance it with plenty of healthy choices, too.
Kai says he really notices a difference at the school lunch table. “My lunch is very different than others,” said Kai. “I eat vegetables and Fuji apples. My sandwich is made with sunflower butter. Once in a while, a friend might bring something in their lunch like sour cream and onion chips. That’s not a natural flavor, I know. But it still tastes really, really good.”
“I like learning about food,” said Kai. “I think kids would rather take advice from other kids rather than their parents. So, if I’m helping kids learn what I learn about food, then it’s working.”
Kai’s Favorite School Lunches:
- Tuna sandwich: Ezekiel sesame bread with pole-caught tuna & olive oil mayo
- Celery, grape tomatoes with Real salt & pepper
- Garden of Eatin’ Organic Blue Corn Chips with Drew’s salsa
- Baby bell peppers
- Fuji Apple
- Sunflower butter sandwich: Ezekiel sesame bread with Sun Butter sunflower butter and St. Dalfour jelly
- Paul Newman’s Spelt pretzels with Cedars Hummus
- Sliced cucumbers with Real Salt
- Green Grapes
Kai’s Favorite Smoothies featured on his YouTube Channel, GenerationKai:
Green smoothie video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkEuI1du15I
Fruit smoothie video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3MSOs7wNEQ&t=2s