Struggling to make your children eat veggies? Perhaps you’re ready to take an honest look at what’s getting in the way.
Gasp! Could it be you?
How often do you eat veggies? Are fast food, processed foods, sweets and canned goods staples in your home?
I began eating vegetables only when I hit my 20s. Constipation, cavities and complexion problems plagued me throughout my youth due to my uneducated high-carb, high-fat, high-sugar diet.
Since my late teens, I have been working out almost daily because I like how exercise makes me feel. But, I could no longer postpone suffering the consequences of my poor dietary decisions.
Not everything could be exercised away, I learned, as I was dealt the blow of a doctor’s warning by my late 30s: “pre-diabetes.”
Having to take medication and monitor my blood sugar by pricking my finger four times a day for most of my pregnancy, I became acutely aware of what I was feeding my body. I was pre-diabetic with hypothyroidism.
Today, I am med-free and have so far cleared all tests.
But it is not a path I want to go through again, and I did not want to pass on these problems of a lifestyle disease to my kids, so I’ve (mostly) cleaned up my act. I can’t expect them to eat their vegetables just because I said so; I had to eat them, too.
If your kids see you not just eating but also enjoying healthy food, they will, too.
My husband Jason and I drink green smoothies daily, so my five-year-old son Jack sees it as normal and has a daily glassful, too. In the beginning, I hated slurping the Soylent Green-looking goo, but, fake it till you make it, as they say; now, I truly like how it tastes and how it makes me feel.
There are many delicious green smoothie recipes online, such as Kimberly Snyder’s glowing green smoothie (GGS).
When eating out, choose healthier options, like different salads to round out your meal. Drink water instead of sugary drinks or soda and explain why those drinks aren’t good for anyone. Enjoy unsweetened tea or sometimes add honey as treat.
Don’t hide it
Some parents have resorted to sneaking in veggies undercover-style into pasta sauces and juices. Kids with more astute palates (or investigative skills), however, eventually discover this and the betrayal clamps their mouths shut till the chicken nuggets resurface.
While there’s nothing wrong with amping up the nutrition in your pasta sauce by adding grated carrots, come clean about it. Talk about how eating carrots will help your child become a better pilot because it’s rich in Vitamin A, which protects their vision; how the lettuce or brown rice is full of fiber, which is like a witch’s magic broom that helps sweep away the bad stuff in their belly so they poop better. Kids love talking about poop!
You’ll eventually need to read up on what nutrients are present in your regular fare because the questions will keep coming! It’s fantastic conversation to have during mealtime and a good reeducation for you, too.
Talk about how a lot of junk food are given a healthy “halo” by advertising its vitamin-fortified qualities despite being mostly sugar and/or fat, so check the ingredients.
Stock up on fresh fruits for easy, excuse-free snacking. Store those about to go bad in a Ziploc bag (which you can wash and reuse) in the freezer for sugar-free smoothies or popsicles (just adding a banana to any fruit combo instantly sweetens it!).
Get their buy-in
Start these changes small. Make mealtime fun by enforcing a no-gadgets rule and just really enjoy each other’s company. Involve your kids in choosing produce at the market to get them familiar with it and in meal preparation.
Teach them how to cook; it is an important life skill they will appreciate always. Praise them for their help and publicly acknowledge their contributions at the table.
Explain the differences between white bread/pasta and whole wheat, white rice and brown, among other stories of where food comes from, and get their input on which is better. Relinquish some power and let them choose what to eat (between two options which are good choices anyway).
Jack was vegetarian till he was two. To do this, I had to really educate myself on how to give him balanced meals. Later, I introduced chicken and fish into his diet. Sometimes, we eat fast food, but since he eats healthily most of the time, we don’t sweat it.
Today, he continues to prefer healthy food to junk. I don’t have to say so; it’s just what he’s used to.
For dessert, he’ll choose a green smoothie or fresh fruit over ice cream; for dinner, veggie soup over spaghetti. If we attend parties where there’s junk (which we call “sometimes food,” taking our cue from “Sesame Street”), he’s free to try them but he usually doesn’t finish it or even eat it again.
Condition their palates
What we find delicious is cultural, and while that can work against us (“This is what we’ve always eaten”), that knowledge can also work for us: If we can retrain our taste buds, we can condition our children’s palates to recognize that what’s good for them tastes good, too.
Blogger and author Lisa Leake overhauled her family’s eating habits by going 100 days without processed or refined foods. After the hundred days, when her daughter tried an artificially flavored treat, she realized she didn’t like it anymore.
Fast-food chicken nuggets used to be yummy for me; today, I no longer like how it tastes. Wean yourself away from a few of these unhealthy food items and when you have them again, you’d wonder what you found so appetizing in the first place. But once you start having them again regularly, you’ll be undoing all that palate-training.
I hope to replicate the results of my experiment on my son’s food preferences with my daughter and sustain it myself. I hope that strengthening these gastronomic foundations and relationships with food will help us avoid lifestyle diseases, maybe even eradicate them from our family genetic history.
I grew up hearing how education is such a worthy legacy for parents to leave their children as it is one thing that can never be taken away. But I think teaching your kids how to be healthy is even more important. Health is truly wealth.