Old wives and mothers aren't always right, but a lot of the time they are. Take vegetables, for instance. For as long as there have been mothers, I suspect, they have been telling their children to eat their vegetables. Scientists are just catching up. Over the past 20 years - roughly the time since I finished medical school - there has been more and more research showing that vegetables truly do promote health. A diet high in vegetables helps protect against many of our worst plagues, from heart disease and strokes to cancer and obesity.
For parents, then, the question is, How can you get your children eating more things that are green, yellow, and red? See which of these ideas you've already incorporated into your family lifestyle, and which ones you might want to adopt:
- Keep cut-up vegetables in the refrigerator for easy snacking.
- Buy frozen vegetables. They offer the same nutritional benefits as fresh, at much lower cost.
- For a quick side dish, pop some frozen peas or corn into the microwave. Or serve them cold: young children often like the crunch, and they're even more nutritious that way.
- Serve vegetables at every family meal. Let your child see you enjoying them.
- Put a little bit of green on your child's plate without saying anything about it. Let your child think that tasting it is his idea.
- To increase the likelihood that your child does take a taste, serve the same vegetable 7 days in a row. Many children shy away from new foods. But after they've seen that little sprig of broccoli for the fifth or sixth time, it won't be as new anymore.
- Plant a garden with your child. There is something almost magical about eating what you have grown.
- Turn off the TV. Kids' TV is full of ads that make foods look appealing, exciting, and terrific. Practically none of those foods are vegetables. Your job is to "sell" your children on vegetables. You can't possibly beat the advertisers at their game. But you can turn them off.
These are just few ideas; you can probably come up with many more. I'll end with a word of warning: If you want your children to grow up hating vegetables, force them to eat them. Create the connection in their minds between vegetables and being nagged, criticized, and coerced. It will be years before they voluntarily touch a green bean, if ever.