We live in a time never seen before in history; statistics of children with diabetes, obesity, and other health issues is on the rise. They are surrounded by junk food, fast food, and processed food-like items. It’s no surprise that children spend more time poking their broccoli with their fork at dinner than actually chewing it. It’s also no surprise that for those parents who pack lunch for their kids, the banana or grapes happen to come back home. How come? They’re surrounded by advertisements aiming at them; from cereal boxes with friendly cartoons to happy meal billboards. I don’t see an abundance of billboards convincing kids that broccoli can make them happy. True, it doesn’t come with a surprise toy, nor does it come with a friendly bunny or a popular character from their Saturday morning cartoon. These are all marketing techniques that surely work on the kids.
With time though, aside all the free parenting tips I got from having a youngster around, I recognized that kids will most likely try something if they aid in the process of making it. If I call my little sister to the kitchen to put her hands in the meal, believe it or not she tries it–out of excitement of her hard work. I had her help me prepare a quinoa vegetable salad for one of my workshops before, and as she stood their organizing the vegetables, she wanted some herself. The same goes with smoothies; she only minds spinach in there if she watches me make it for her. If she’s able to help, suddenly spinach is her friend.
I had to learn myself, that there really are things your child will not exaggerate about. Personally, I love spices. Aside their wealth of health benefits for us, they give food a delicious taste and aroma, but the fact of the matter is not everyone can handle them similarly. So if your child is telling you that the food is spicy, they definitely are more sensitive to spices than you, even ones like black pepper or cumin. Try using those sparingly, or omitting spices from the meal you make for them completely.
It’s extremely difficult for kids to comprehend how some foods are simply devastating to their health. It becomes even more difficult when they go to school and see all the junk in the lunch boxes of their friends, sold at school lunch lines, or in vending machines all around them.
So how can you get your child to eat their vegetables? First off, don’t force it upon them. Be an example for them, and like everything else, they will imitate you. Secondly, keep the junk out of sight. If you have a bowl of color-dye-full M&M candies or chips on the table, no doubt about that they’ll be coming back and forth. Instead, let them grow and familiarize with seeing fruit bowls and platters of fresh vegetables. Smoothies are fun to make while letting the kids get involved and a great way for them to get a serving or two of fruit. Adding a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach will not ruin the taste, but will undoubtedly boost the nutritional value.
Lastly, incorporate vegetables into foods you know your child will eat. If your child loves soup, blend in cooked vegetables. When I make lentil soup, I toss in carrots, zucchini, kale, cabbage or spinach. After cooking is complete, I use my hand blender to turn it into a very smooth and creamy soup. I have a wonderful veggie tater tot recipe which I will share with you next week. It’s loaded with veggies, but they are minced up enough to pass your child’s picky judgement. Just please, don’t tell the kids!
Prominently, nonetheless, don’t stick to the notion of always sneaking in the vegetables to the extent where your child never sees vegetables in their whole form. They might mix up the names of a broccoli with a carrot. It might sound wild, but I was conducting a workshop for children, and when I held up an orange one student kept on reassuring me that it’s a vegetable. Be sure to keep whole foods around, and talk about them with your child. As I’ve mentioned, children love to be helpful. Have them help write the shopping list for the grocery shopping trip, and instead of them running down the chips aisle, let them come with you to pick the fruits and vegetables out.
Next week I will share a delicious and easy veggie tater tot recipe even the pickiest of children would approve of. For now, remember: children discover and emulate from their environment; if you clean up their environment which you can amend, it’ll help clean-up their diet. Be an example yourself, allow them to step into the grocery shopping, and it’ll be a bonus if they can aid you in the healthy cooking, too.
Editor’s note:Noor H. Salem is an author, speaker, and Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, from Michigan. Noor works with clients in better understanding their bodies and healing with natural foods through her wellness practice, Holistic Noortrition. She presents various workshops, school lectures, group coaching classes, and community lectures on the topic of holistic health. Noor recently published her book, Sunnah Superfoods, a culmination of life-changing recipes and remedies, with a foreword by Dr. Waleed Basyouni. Her book consists of prophetic hadith, modern research, and delicious recipes, and is in the process of being translated into other languages.