January 31, 2010

Lead by Example: Eat Your Veggies!

There has been a commercial on lately for one of those fruit/veggie drinks to trick your kids (or spouse) into eating their veggies.  This commercial shows a family sitting at the table, and they pass around a delicious-looking plate of steamed broccoli, which no one (not even the parents) touches, before gulping down glasses of the advertised beverage.

And I don't like it one bit.

First of all, that broccoli looked really good!  But I won't get bogged down in details.  The real issue is bigger than this ad, so I'll look at the big picture.

  • Everyone say it with me: vegetables are delicious!  Don't believe it?  Then that's the first part of the problem.  If you don't like any veggies, you're cooking them wrong.  Try them in different forms: raw, canned, frozen or even dried.  Try preparing them differently: baked, boiled, steamed, sauteed, fried, broiled, braised or many others.  Try a new recipe from a cooking show (I recommend Good Eats, with Alton Brown) or a cookbook.  Try a totally new vegetable, or one you haven't had since childhood.  Try until you find ways of preparing veggies that you really like.  
  • Eat them because you like them.  If your kids see you choking down veggies because you have to, that's not sending the message you want.  Kids need to view veggies as a delicious part of the meal, not medicine they have to choke down until they're big enough to tell you "no."  
  • Find balance in your discipline.  This problem can go one of two ways: either a parent begs, pleads and bargains to get the child to eat, giving them all the control; or the parent forces the unwilling child to eat everything on their plate.  As a parent, your goal is to build healthy eating habits in your child.  If you cook  Brussels sprouts down to bitter mush and then force your child to eat them, you can bet that they won't be able to bear the sight or smell of them for a long time.  So really think, know your child and choose your battles: some children need to be encouraged to eat more, others can be allowed to go hungry if they object constantly to the food they're served.  
  • Don't trick your children!  Finally, my major beef with the advertisement in question: the idea of "sneaking in" the veggies.  As I said before, your goal is to create healthy eating habits.  Hiding veggies behind other food won't teach your kids to like them, and therefore they won't keep eating them outside your home.  Also, by drinking the juice, your kids will miss out on some of the nutrients, like fiber, that they would be getting in the vegetable itself.  
Why is all of this important, anyway?

Obesity and obesity-related issues are an epidemic in this country.  Parents need to teach their children how to eat well from a young age, including reasonable portion sizes, and how to find time for physical activity each day that they enjoy.  The heavy homework and extra-curricular loads, loss of PE and recess time in schools, the prominence of fad diets and ads like this make your job harder; but to give your kids the gift of a healthy life, it's worth an awful lot of effort.

[It's Not About Nutrition - Should Your Kids Drink Their Veggies?]

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