I heard an interesting piece on the radio yesterday about efforts to increase the nutritional value of foods served at school lunches. These include highlighting healthier foods with better lighting, rearranging the way different options are presented to the kids (for example, move the chocolate milk a little farther away to make it more difficult to reach when going through the lunch line), and adding pureed veggies to foods that wouldn’t normally contain veggies (nacho sauce). The retail-style tricks to allure young consumers to pick certain foods over others with lighting and placement are brilliant. We know that this works to entice us to buy more stuff at the mall and the grocery store, so it stands to reason that it would also work to subtly encourage kids to make healthier choices. However, hiding veggies in other foods is just a bad idea and here’s why.
As parents, it is not our job to pack our kids full of 100% of the daily value of vitamins and minerals each and every day. That may surprise some people. It is our job to teach our children how to become competent eaters and make good food choices for themselves. This will lead to good nutrition in both childhood and for life. Hiding veggies in foods like nacho sauce and brownies only teaches our children to eat nacho sauce and brownies. Here are some better ways to encourage your child to eat and try new healthy foods:
Always serve a wide variety of veggies with family dinner. Even if you are positive that your child will not eat what you are serving, have it on the table anyway. Repeated exposure to a food and watching parents eat that food make it more acceptable and eventually a child will try it.
Cook with your child. Children are far more likely to try and enjoy foods that they have helped to prepare. If you’re not sure how to cook veggies, this is a great place to start.
Plant a backyard garden or become frequent visitors to a farmers’ market. Children are fascinated with where food comes from. When they feel more invested in the food they are eating, they are more likely to eat it.
Prepare veggies in favorite ways. Try broccoli with cheese sauce, glazed carrots, etc. These preparations feature flavors children enjoy while still featuring actual veggies.
As parents, we obviously want our children to be as healthy and grow as well as possible. If your child isn’t a fan of many (or any!) veggies, resist the temptation to “sneak” them into other foods. Children usually like fruit, so provide your child a wide variety of fruit. They have much of the same vitamins and minerals as the less-favored veggies. Continue to present them with a wide variety of veggies and eventually they will sample. Supplement with a chewable vitamin if you want. And keep modeling healthy eating!