Ahh, it’s that time of year again…Back to School! After an extended vacation through most of August away from schedules, busy stores and household chores it’s a shock to the system to arrive back home just in time to receive new schedules and fight back-to-school shopping crowds all while needing to catch up on grocery shopping and laundry. Still, I’ll gladly take this last hectic week of August because freedom is at the end of the tunnel – 6 blessed hours, 5 days a week! I can be more creative with my clients’ workouts, get household chores done without constant interruptions, catch up on industry publications, fit in longer workouts, have some “me” time in between, and, yes, have more time to work on my weekly blog entries.
Which brings me to this week’s blog. Until about 30 minutes ago, when I returned from Staples $150 poorer with three bags of school supplies, I was drawing a complete blank for a topic. But, as I was pondering what to make for dinner tonight, the light bulb went on. I have friends with children who often ask me how I get my kids to eat vegetables. It’s a good time to share with you what I’ve learned thus far with a 12 and 7 year old in house.
Involve kids in the food you eat. Yes, this means involve them in the preparation of meals. But it also means involving them as much as possible in the other parts of the process. Try to grow some of your own – even if it’s simply herbs on the window sill – it’s a valuable lesson for kids to learn where real food comes from. Bring them to pick-your-own farms and orchards. Out of season, bring kids with you to a local grocer that has good quality produce. Have the kids select a new fruit or vegetable they want to try. The more involved they are in the food that’s selected and prepared, the more likely they are to at least try it.
Model healthy eating. We have a rule in our house that both adults and kids must obey – at least one serving of fruit or vegetable must be consumed at every meal. I never forced my kids to eat anything they didn’t like. I don’t believe in making a kid sit at the table until he finishes his peas. As far as I’m concerned, all that does is guarantee that the kid will grow up to be an adult who doesn’t eat peas. So, when my kids were younger and their palates more limited, it meant I needed to meet them half way by making sure I always had on hand fresh fruits and vegetables that are ready-to-eat and kid-friendly – apples, pears, carrots, bananas, grapes, snap peas, cucumbers, tomatoes. We encouraged them to try what we were eating and gave them lots of praise when they did. Sometimes they converted, sometimes not. Many times conversions happened by trying a fruit or veggie several times over a long period of time. But, when they tried and didn’t like, out came a fruit or vegetable they did like. Everyone was happy and everyone consumed their mandatory fruit or veggie.
Have them sample new fruits and vegetables mixed in with food they already like. Sautee a “new” vegetable and add it to pasta sauce or macaroni and cheese. The key is to introduce only one new ingredient at a time. If they will eat tomato sauce that has sautéed peppers in it, next time try adding mushrooms along with the peppers and so on. With mac and cheese, you can cook and puree foods like sweet potato or butternut squash and add it into the cheese sauce. Many people tell me their kids won’t eat salads. Start off with greens that are mild and soft – bibb lettuce or green/red leaf lettuce – tear into bite size pieces and then add in items they already like. I often put grapes, diced apple or pear, and mandarin oranges in my salads when my girls were younger. Now they eat salads made with baby spinach, avocado and dried cranberries.
The funny thing is, since I put the emphasis on having my kids eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables, I eat more myself. Give it a try, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make dinner and daydream of September 3rd – the first day of school.
Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional. My food recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry publications I receive and my personal experience. Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals. If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet.