Yesterday’s launch of Jessica Seinfeld’s second book, Double Delicious, seems to have prompted a flurry of protests by parents against the concept of sneaking healthy foods, most notably vegetables, into kids’ meals rather than teaching them to enjoy fresh produce, undisguised, from an early age. The biggest concern is that these so called “stealth” strategies reinforce the notion that vegetables are not tasty or enjoyable – a stigma they’ve carried with them for generations. Even in households where vegetables are served on a regular basis, they’re often seen as a part of the meal that must be endured in order to get dessert.
I spoke with Patty James, MS, author of More Vegetables, Please!: Over 100 Easy & Delicious Recipes for Eating Healthy Foods Each & Every Day, and asked her advice for parents whose kids aren’t yet vegetable fans, but who want to avoid turning the dinner table into a battleground.
Q: What advice can you give to parents of kids who refuse to eat vegetables?
A: Don’t give up! It can take quite a few tries before your child learns to like a new vegetable. While I’m not a fan of hiding vegetables as it sends the message that veggies are something not to like, sometimes putting veggies into sandwiches and wraps is a good way to begin. Grated carrots rolled up in that turkey sandwich with some lettuce, as an example.
Q: How can we improve our kids’ overall nutrition when we compete against big food – ads on TV and an overabundance of fast food and junk food?
A: First and foremost is set a good example yourself. Be enthused about good health. With older kids don’t get too preachy but do educate; that burger has this many grams of fat and this much sodium…but don’t stop there, however, as that is a half-lesson. Explain why too much sodium and too much of the wrong kinds of fat is bad for their health. If your child is drinking a lot of soda explain that it can weaken their bones. Explain the consequences of their choices. Granted, kids seem to think that nothing bad, health-wise, will happen to them, but your information will help them to make better choices and will eventually sink in. For smaller children, they can’t go buy junk food and soda unless you do, so don’t. Junk food should be a rare occurrence. With all kids, simply don’t offer those choices in your home.
Q: How can our kids’ diet affect their moods and performance at school?
A: One of the questions asked as part of the non-profit, Shine The Light On Kids, was just that question. Most of the kids answered that yes, food can affect their mood and performance. They know that if they skip breakfast or eat something sugary for breakfast they will “crash” or “not be able to concentrate” or “get jumpy.”
Q: What exactly is organic food, and why do you believe we should eat it?
A: Organic foods are “produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.” This is the simplest definition and the easiest to understand. No chemical pesticides or fertilizers equate to less environmental damage, healthier foods and therefore a healthier you.
Q: Are all organic foods worth the extra cost? Which should be priorities?
A: Perhaps we should think about the words ‘cost’ and ‘expense.’ The cost of something is what we pay for it and the expense is often an ongoing payment and in this case the ongoing payment is the health of our Earth and living creatures, including ourselves. There is a Native American saying, “In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” Our thinking needs to be in these terms and if it is, we will choose organic foods and products whenever possible.
There is a list of foods that according to the Environmental Working Group are the most heavily contaminated, so if you can’t purchase them organic, do substitute something else. I suggest that milk and baby food always be on this list. They also have a list of fifteen foods, known as the ‘clean fifteen’ that if not purchased organic have the least amount of contaminates. By the way this list can change, so check back!
12 Most Contaminated:
* Sweet Bell Peppers
* Grapes (Imported)
12 Least Contaminated:
* Sweet Corn (Frozen)
* Sweet Peas (Frozen)
* Kiwi Fruit
Q: Do you have some simple tips and ideas for things parents can start today?
A: I have witnessed that kids are much wiser and intuitive that parents often give them credit for. Adults also make assumptions about kids and what they want. Let’s make kids part of the process, as then they are more likely to be part of the solution.
· Set a good example.
· Involve your children.
· Everyone likes options; do you want broccoli or green beans tonight?
· Do not have junk food or soda in your home.
· Educate. As you’re grating carrots say, did you know that carrots contain beta-carotene which is good for your eyesight? or Do you know that soda contain phosphoric acid that can weaken your bones? (Because it affects the absorption of calcium-know your audience!)
· Take small, sustainable steps.
About the Authors:
Elson M. Haas, MD, is an integrated medicine practitioner with more than thirty-five years of experience. He is founder and director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, CA. Haas is author of seven popular books on health and nutrition, including Staying Healthy with the Seasons and The New Detox Diet. Visit him at www.elsonhaas.com.
Patty James is a certified natural chef. She was founder and director of Patty James Cooking School and Nutrition Center in Sebastopol, CA, the first certified organic cooking school and nutrition center in the country. James works as a nutritional consultant both with individuals and with groups such as schools and health care providers. Visit her online at www.pattyjames.com.
Photo credit: istockphoto/aphrodite74