Stocking up on a healthy lifestyle
If you look forward to eating vegetables, your children will get the message that veg are a healthy and delicious part of their diet.— Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, pediatrician, author of “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right.”
When her children were young, Antoinette Kuritz made sure they ate their greens. In fact, she made sure they grew them, too. “We planted a huge garden, and they each had their own colander,” said Kuritz. “For each meal, they went outside and picked the veg they wanted, picked how much they were prepared to eat, washed and drained it, and put it on their plates.” For the Kuritz family, vegetables were a natural part of mealtime. However, in many households today, the closest thing to a veggies are chips from the takeaway. Adding much-needed nutrients to your child’s meals may be a challenge when high sugar, salt and fatty foods are conveniently within reach, but it’s a necessity for maintaining their health. Before you'll have any success, though, you'll have to get to the root of the veg stigma as a family.
Getting to the root of the problem
Children are not born with a natural disposition to loath vegetables, said Yvonne Syto, registered dietitian and author of “Nutrition Map: Your Guide to Eating Healthy in the Real World.” In fact, it’s just the opposite. As infants, they eagerly await that next bite of pureed veg. When fruits are introduced, veg typically takes a back seat to the sweeter option fruits provide.
“In addition, as they begin to chew more and more, many parents will continue to rely on prepackaged meals,” Syto said. “If caregivers are not serving them up from the start, even if they like vegetables, then why would a child like them and accept them?”
Packaging also plays a role in a child’s disposition toward vegetables, said Lisa Suriano, nutritionist and founder of The Veggiecation Program, a nutrition education program for children.
“Veggies generally do not come in neat packaging with creative lettering and fun cartoon characters,” Suriano said. “We do not see them everywhere we look as we do with foods like crisps and pizza.”
Therefore, a fear of the unknown — the hidden veggie — manifests within children. Suriano suggests giving children hands-on experience with vegetables.
“Have kids peel carrots, tear the lettuce and pour ingredients into dishes. Give them regular, repeated exposure to veggies,” Suriano said. “All of these techniques will foster the familiarity needed to be comfortable with these new and foreign foods.”
Parents need to jump onboard the vegetable train, too. They have to make a commitment to gobble up the greens alongside their children. “Kids take their cues from us,” Kuritz said. “Many parents don’t realise that with just a look or by leaving their veggies on their plates and expressing dislike, they transfer their own trepidation about veggies to their kids.”
Making veg the norm
It’s no secret that vegetables offer many benefits for your mind and body. Kale and sweet potatoes provide rich sources of potassium, helping the body heal quicker from cuts and bruises. Folate in veggies like spinach, cabbage and broccoli energise brainpower, while zinc in celery and asparagus helps keep hair healthy and shiny.
Beyond the obvious benefits of nutrients that kids need to develop, vegetables may also inspire a picky eater to open her mouth and mind to new dishes.
“Vegetables provide colours, interesting flavours and textures to dishes that make them unique and appetising,” Syto said. “We eat with our eyes first and our stomachs second.”
Filling your child’s stomach with green goodness may require you to get creative.
Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, pediatrician and author of “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right,” recommends serving vegetables in funny designs or tossing them in a soup.
“A bowl of courgettes may not seem fun, but place the courgettes on a plate in the shape of a smiley face, and suddenly eating it becomes a game,” she said. “Presentation can make a big difference.”
Modeling behaviour also makes a difference, Dolgoff said. “Allow your children to see you enjoying vegetables. If you look forward to eating vegetables, your children will get the message that veggies are a healthy and delicious part of their diet.”
Making your children part of the food-selection process may also encourage them to go for the green. Take your children grocery shopping and spend some time in the produce aisle admiring the natural nutrients. Like the Kuritz family, you can also start a vegetable garden to teach your child the basics of vegetable growth and healthy food options.
Kuritz also suggests making veggies part of a goal. When her granddaughter wanted to reach 3.5 ft (106 cm) in height in order to ride a roller coaster, her parents told her that eating veggies, especially raw spinach, would help her achieve that goal.
“She ate, and they took her on the roller coaster the minute she reached 3.5 ft,” Kuritz said. “And she still eats the veggies.”
Veggies need to be a natural part of your children’s diet, rather than a food that is force-fed. Sneaking vegetables into your children’s meals won’t help them in the long run.
“Sure, you can spend your time mashing up carrots and chopping up spinach to sneak into your daughter’s pancakes, but what will happen five or 10 years from now when she is living on her own?” Dolgoff said. “She won’t be used to the true taste of a veggie, and she certainly won’t have the time (or patience) to julienne her own greens.
“It’s worth the extra effort to get your children to eat vegetables knowingly and willingly.”