We’ve all heard that we need to more fruits and vegetables. No, seriously, we do. Very few of us actually eat the variety or amount of produce recommended for health promotion and disease prevention. And, as parents, of course we want to help kids eat their greens. That’s one of the keys to being healthy.
Ugh, one more thing to do right? Sorry, don’t mean to be a downer. But, there’s hope. In fact, this post is about an amazingly easy way to get your kids to eat more vegetables now, and as they grow into adulthood.
Fruits are usually easy, but what about vegetables?
If you serve your kids almost any fruit, they eat it, right? But what about different vegetables? Especially dark leafy greens like kale, which are considered some of the most nutrient dense food around? Vegetables tend to get pushed around the plate and end up in the compost. Or, worse, the trash.
If your family is anything like ours, each day is another snack/mealtime battle to eat more vegetables. One things that has really helped our family is having a rule that we eat at least one fruit or vegetable (or both!) at every meal and snack. It’s just what we do. We brush our teeth, we sleep, we practice piano and we eat produce whenever we have a snack or meal. Done.
Still, that often leads to day after day of eating carrots and applesauce. Love them both, but we all need to “eat a rainbow” of all colors of fruits and vegetables to give our bodies what they need.
When looking at the different colors of produce, our biggest battles are over eating anything green. Hands down. One son will stomach celery, and the other loves broccolini, but they shun anything green and leafy.
Until I found a secret. Get your kids a pet tortoise! Yes, really! Let me explain…
My younger son Henry recently inherited a tortoise named Forest. Forest eats only leafy greens. She likes her greens as bitter as possible, and she’ll eat a piece broccoli once in a while. Every morning and every night Henry throws a fist full of kale, dandelion greens, lettuce, or radicchio into her bowl. And without teeth, Forest tears apart and devours over two cups of greens a day.
After two weeks of feeding Forest, Henry decided to make a dinner salad for everyone in the family, too. He served each person a plate full of torn purple cabbage, arugula and butter crunch lettuce studded with carrots and raisins. Suddenly, eating greens in our household is becoming the new fun norm. Henry is even growing a row of mixed greens just for Forest.
How to help kids eat their greens? Model the behavior.
I don’t actually recommend everyone get a pet tortoise to benefit from the principle at work here. It’s called “modeling.” It’s well-documented in the research to influence what, when and where kids eat.
Here is how modeling works. The more often a child sees you, their peers, and other caring adults (or loving pets) eating a particular type of produce, the more positive feelings they have towards it. Then as the produce is available to them at home, school, and elsewhere in the community, the more likely they are to try it, eat it, and then frequently consume it into adulthood.
I can’t overstate the importance of consistently modeling vegetable consumption. Your kids will eat what you do, and what their siblings and friends eat.
Rather than keep harping “eat your veggies” try this: At least twice a week let your kids see you eating dark leafy greens, and try serving them in different ways your kids are likely to eat them. Then with occasional gentle encouragement, over time your kids will eat their greens too.
What is your family’s best kept secret to help kids to eat their greens?