Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Or maybe "My kid just doesn't like vegetables"?
It always leaves me wondering if, at some point, without me realizing it, eating vegetables stopped being considered crucial to good health.
Because they are. And if they're crucial to good health, our kids should be eating them. Period. Non-optional. In our house, this falls under the Ironmom Tough Shit Policy. In other words, Tough Shit kid, you're eating your vegetables.
Of course, it's not quite that simple. In reality, there's four key things I do to keep my kids eating healthy.
1) Model healthy eating. This is the hardest one. I was busted out by my daughter yesterday for taking a sugary sample from the Trader Joe's sample lady when we had set ourselves out on a post-Halloween no-sugar challenge. Whoops! Setting a good example is hard work dammit. But it's essential step numero uno if you want healthy kids. Filling our own plates with veggies is the best way to send the message that this is the way to healthy eating. "Do as I say, not as I do" never ever works.
2) Explain why vegetables and fruits are essential to good health. Do not rely on your kids "Health" classes to do this in school. Chances are, there's a Coke machine right outside the classroom door. Although some school are catching up (one here in town actually has a garden), you can't rely on anyone but yourself when it comes to nutritional advice.
Information is a powerful tool. A friend of mine once told a group of our kids "if it says Hydrogenated on the label, just substitute the words "cancer-causing". My kids became ardent label-readers and to this day, they will turn down even the most delectable treat if the word "hydrogenated" appears anywhere on the packaging. That was a great lesson for me to not shy away from letting my kids know exactly why I make the food choices that I do, in powerful language.
3) Make it non-optional. This is where the Tough Shit Policy comes into play. You are the parent. They are the kids. They have to do what you say. Now I think my kids would tell you that I very rarely employ the Tough Shit policy. I'm a big believer in picking which hill you want to die on. But when it comes to nutrition, I'm ready to stand and fight.
"A meal is a protein and a vegetable, with an optional fruit" is something you'll hear around our house frequently. That's just me reminding the kids of how to prioritize their eating. Except for breakfast, every meal or snack I set out has vegetables in it, or vegetables on the side. Not eating your vegetables? Not an option.
4) Make it fun. It's not like I force my kids to eat things they hate. They can go to the farmer's market or store with me and pick out whichever veggies and fruits strike their fancy. We like to include all sorts of different veggies in our repertoire: jicama sticks, snap peas, lightly steamed broccoli with teriyaki dipping sauce, carrots with hummus, cucumbers with tzatziki, seaweed snacks, kale chips, and the good old Big Ass Salad. Having our own garden for years has been the best way to make sure they eat lots of veggies. When you can go out the back door and pick the snap peas yourself, they taste infinitely better. And we can grow fun stuff like purple carrots and little orange tomatoes.
So this is how it comes to pass that when we went to a Red Robin's for dinner on a road trip recently, my son orders a chicken caesar salad, and my daughter asks for a steamed veggie teriyaki bowl (which has been her favorite for years and for some reason they just cut from their menu. Boooo Red Robin!). It never ceases to amaze the waiters. The fact that they always comment on my kids' food choices makes me realize how rare they are.
With the words "childhood obesity epidemic" on everyone's big worry list, it's clear that it's time to take kids' nutrition back into our own hands and put the phrase "Eat your vegetables" back into the national vocabulary.