When I was about four years old, my older brother shook up my world when he told me that the cellophane-wrapped meat my mother bought at the supermarket came from animals. I had no idea.
I knew more about vegetables because we had a small backyard garden. My grandfather planted potatoes, rhubarb, and tomatoes. As I grew older, I cut out a small corner of the yard for myself where I nurtured cucumbers, carrots, and radishes. One year I even managed a couple of stalks of corn.
Not only did I look forward to picking and eating the fruits of my labor, but I got a huge kick out of watching my family eat them, too. Decades later, my love of veggies is still going strong.
Unfortunately, many children have never seen a garden, much less tended one. Many have never visited a farm or orchard. Some don’t even have access to a store with fresh produce. These children know nothing of food beyond what comes in boxes or bags or the colorful trappings of their favorite fast food restaurant. Some kids can’t identify a Brussels sprout or a spaghetti squash, wouldn’t know how to prepare them, and certainly don’t want to eat them. What a shame.
Angela Lemond, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, encourages parents to teach their children the what, why, and how of eating as early as possible. “We do that for everything else in our children’s lives, so why would food be different?”
GROW - CHOOSE - PREPARE TO GET CHILDREN TO EAT HEALTHY
Ms. Lemond offers three tips to get children interested in healthy foods.
1. Grow It. Give your child his or her own plant and allow them to care for it. Have them plant it, till the soil, and water it. Explain that plants are on this earth for our consumption. They provide our bodies with exactly what they need. Children will eat what they are raised to eat. Children like to raise their own food. It's fun! Anytime you involve fun in food, they will respond positively.
2. Choose It. If a child is stuck on bad food choices, you may need to re-evaluate your pantry. Kids respond to eating healthy foods when they know how it will help do things that are important in their lives.
For instance, a little boy may be motivated to eat more “super power foods” to help him run faster or kick the ball harder in soccer. Maybe another child really enjoys reading – you can tell them that eating healthy foods helps them read better. It is important to customize a nutrition message that speaks to them. They don't understand how healthy foods keep them from getting heart disease. You’ve lost them on that comment. It must be a real-time message for their lives NOW.
3. Prepare It. Get your kids in the kitchen to be your "assistant chef" as soon as possible.
Lemond suggests that getting children involved in the kitchen will help them learn while building lasting memories. “Even if you’re not much of a cook yourself, explore with your kids. And if you love cooking, relinquish control. This is not about perfection, and there should be no high expectations for the finished product. It’s about exploring as a family in the kitchen.”
FIXING THE AMERICAN'S JUNK FOOD CULTURE
Getting kids interested in healthy eating has always been a challenge, but the junking of the American diet in the last several decades makes it more difficult than ever. Our dietary failings are pervasive throughout all income levels, educational levels, and cultural backgrounds.
In a 2012 interview with NPR, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “If I didn't have this figured out with all my education and all my exposure, you know, there are probably other parents and families out there who needed help, as well.”
“The hard part was trying to get the kids excited about a new diet,” said Mrs. Obama. “Slowly they began to embrace it, and that’s where the whole notion of planting a garden came from, because I found that in my own kids, when they were involved in the process of growing and harvesting their own food, and they were engaged, they actually embraced the idea.”
Kids know what they live, so it’s up to parents to provide them with opportunity and motivation to eat healthy for all the right reasons.
Reference: First Lady: Nation's Health 'Starts With Our Kids' (2012). NPR
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs!"and the forthcoming “Catch That Look,”and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.