Let’s Start with the Basics
Importance of Vegetables
It’s a well known fact that vegetables are vital for maintaining a healthy body and lifestyle. According to the USDA MyPlate research, people who eat more vegetables and fruit as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Vegetables provide us with an important source for nutrients such as potassium (important for maintaining healthy blood pressure), dietary fiber (reduces blood cholesterol levels, reduces constipation and promotes healthy bowel functions), folate (helps the body form red blood cells), vitamin A (protects eyes and skin against infections), and vitamin C (heals cuts and wounds, important for maintaining good oral health, and aids in iron absorption). Most vegetables are low in fat and calories; and all vegetables have zero cholesterol.
I think it’s safe to say that vegetables are healthy and that you should be eating more of them.
But you knew that.
I didn’t have to list a bunch of nutrition facts to convince you. We all know vegetables are healthy. This is something that has been repeatedly drilled in our heads since day one…
Or at least it should have been.
Parental Attitudes about Vegetables
If you are reading this article, you must be wondering why your children refuse to eat their vegetables. How can you possibly get them to eat their full serving of broccoli? Cauliflower? Sweet Potatoes? At this point, you’ll settle for one baby carrot… dipped in ranch.
Let’s start by reflecting on the following questions:
Do you personally enjoy eating vegetables?
How do you refer to vegetables in casual conversation?
Are vegetables the main focus of your meals?
Do you feed your children sugary or processed foods?
Believe it or not, I’ve heard of several families that downright will not eat vegetables. It usually begins with one person, child or parent, refusing to eat them until they are eventually eliminated altogether. That makes me cringe. How could a child – or anyone – not instinctively want to eat something that is so important for their sustained health and development?
We must be role models for our children.
Children learn eating habits from their parents, or whoever is serving the majority of their meals. They are always listening to us and learning by observation. If there is a negative connoation around the idea of eating vegetables, it is unlikely that you will be able to convince your children to love vegetables; or much less eat them. They will already have the preconceived notion that vegetables taste bad before even trying them.
Sugary and processed foods are also a big problem today. Studies have already confirmed that intermittent sugar consumption results in behavioral and brain changes that are characteristic of users on addictive drugs. If your children are consuming too much candy, soda, high-fructose corn syrup based juices, or highly refined starches such as white bread, flour, pretzels and pasta, their palates will not crave vegetables. Rather, they will desire nutrient-void junk food.
How to Incorporate Vegetables into Your Children’s Diet
We must focus on making vegetables the highlight of our meals.
Society is continuously striving for healthier foods that will actually nourish our bodies. This is reflected in the constant new detox diets that eliminate sugar, dairy, gluten, carbs – you name it – as long as it guarantees weight loss or increased energy. It’s also reflected in brand packaging, as food companies answer our cries for all natural, GMO-free, organic, no high-fructose corn syrup, whole grain, and vegan products. We truly do want to eat healthy.
Let’s just make it simple and start piling up our plates with vegetables! We need more vegetable-focused meals like eggplant parmesan, vegetable lasagna, stir fry or loaded veggie fajitas. Try Vegan Richa’s Indian Food. She makes deliciously spiced vegetarian food.
If we expect our children to be healthy and consume vegetables on a regular basis, then we must first correct our own unhealthy eating patterns. The sooner we start eliminating unhealthy food addictions from our diet, the quicker we will be able to retrain our taste buds and start enjoying the foods that benefit us the most again.
Here are some tips to point you in the right direction.
- Discover new vegetables with your children. Bring your children grocery shopping and have them choose new vegetables to taste-test each week. Have you heard of purple bush beans?
- Never force your children to eat vegetables. Contradicting? Yes, but no. If they genuinely despise a vegetable and you force them to eat it, they are likely to hate it for the rest of their lives. Focus on cooking the vegetables your children do like in between introducing new ones. Perhaps, make them taste just one small bite.
- Serve vegetables at every meal. I aim to fill over half of my plate with vegetables.
- Bring your children into the kitchen to help cook. It is always exciting to taste food that you cook yourself, plus you will teach them invaluable life skills.
- Cook vegetables in a variety of ways. Try steaming, lightly frying, oven-roasting or grilling. Try them plain. Try new seasonings or sauces, but beware of high sodium and preservative-packed store bought varieties.
- Taste them raw. Vegetables taste different raw versus cooked.
- Teach nutrition facts on a kid-friendly level. Briefly research nutrition facts if you are not well-versed in this area of science and share it with your kids at dinner time. You might say, “Broccoli makes our bones strong like rhinos.” Or, “Carrots make it so we can see in the dark!” Make it age-appropriate and fun.
- Experiment with meatless meals and invite new taste combinations to the table. This is a great way to make vegetables the centerpiece to your meal.
- Hide vegetables in dishes. You can easily hide finely chopped leafy greens, mushrooms and onions in spaghetti.
- Eliminate nutrient-void food from your cupboards. If the junk food is not available, your children will not be able to eat it. Provide plenty of fruits, vegetables or homemade granola bars for snacks.
- Save rich desserts for special occasions. Serve fruit or homemade green smoothies for dessert instead.
- Always maintain a positive attitude towards eating vegetables. Refrain from negativity in order to give your children a chance to explore different tastes without prescribing your opinion.
- Try them again and again!
Children Eat What You Serve Them
Once the constant sugar, junk food, and fast food consumption declines dramatically, you and your children will start to crave vegetables. Why? Because vegetables actually taste delicious and fuel our body with superior nutrition and energy! Then, and only then, will your children eat the vegetables you serve them.