For the health of our children, I believe one of the most important things we can do as parents is to model, motivate and teach them to enjoy a variety of whole foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”left” source_author=”Norah O’Donnell” source_title=”Baby Love: Healthy, Easy, Delicious Meals for your Baby and Toddler” full_quote=”Scientists believe infancy and the toddler years are the best window of opportunity to influence adult health because there is so much rapid growth and cell division in the body. It’s called “metabolic programming,” the idea that foods eaten in childhood can have long-lasting – even permanent – effects on how the body grows and wards off disease.” short_quote=”Scientists believe infancy and the toddler years are the best window of opportunity to influence adult health”]
From my daughter’s first bites of pureed foods, I talked about delicious flavors (lots and lots of “yummy yum yumm”, smiles, belly patting) and the wonderful benefits (strong bones, good eyes in babyesque language) every time we fed her. I tried to eat my meals with her as much as possible, modeling how vegetables, fruits and healthy food can be enjoyed. As she turned two, then three, four, five…we talked about the colors and textures of foods. I took her with me to the local Farmer’s market, pointing out various vegetables. She always got excited (and still does) about the most colorful vegetables (“Purple carrots! Beets!” Bell peppers!”). Yes, there were (and are) times when she doesn’t like something, but we keep re-introducing disliked vegetables and foods. I learned the best tactic from my amazing cousin Michelle. When her daughter said, “I don’t like it,” Michelle responded, “you’re just not in the mood for it today.” This left open the possibility that she might “like it” tomorrow, next week or next month. And eventually she always ends up liking whatever initially had been disliked.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”left” source_author=”Pamela Druckerman” source_title=”Bringing Up Bebé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” full_quote=”In France, the idea of reintroducing a broad range of vegetables and other foods isn’t just one idea among many. It’s the guiding culinary principle for kids. The ordinary, middle-class French parents I meet are evangelical about the idea that there is a rich world of flavors out there, which their children must be educated to appreciate.” short_quote=”In France, the idea of reintroducing a broad range of vegetables and other foods isn’t just one idea among many. It’s the guiding culinary principle for kids.”]
From early on, my daughter participated in the kitchen. As a one- year old she sat on the counter as I showed her how to put spinach leaves, peas and other toddler friendly vegetables into a salad bowl. Often peas, edamame, cooked beets etc, would go into her mouth rather than the bowl. At age two, she was standing on a stepstool, helping put ingredients into the mixing bowl as we made pancakes or muffins. Gradually, she’s taken on bigger tasks.
Every meal, she generally eats three or more vegetables/fruits. I believe this strengthens her immune system and protects her against disease. Proof that it works is that when she started preschool at age two, she caught a cold only twice in the first six months, neither of which lasted more than a couple of days. By age five, the only visits to the pediatrician were annual wellness exams, and a couple of eye infections that were actually sensitivity to dairy. Considering we spend two months a year in Bolivia, her health is really remarkable.
Increasing evidence demonstrates that people who eat more plant foods (vegetables fruits, beans and nuts/seeds) are less likely to get sick. They contain a wide range of powerful immune-supporting phytonutrients (plant chemicals) that protect our bodies. To get optimal amounts of these protective micronutrients, we have to eat lots of plant foods.
Today, the average American gets over 60% of their calories from processed foods – factory-made foods with added sweeteners, white flour and oils mixed with additives, coloring agents and preservatives to extend shelf life. Processed foods don’t have significant amounts antioxidants or phytochemicals. People eating this Standard American Diet get less than 10% of their calories from natural plant foods such as fruits, beans, seeds and vegetables (and of that 10% half the vegetable consumption is white potato products). This diet is not just slightly deficient in a few micronutrients; it’s massively deficient in hundreds of important plant-derived immunity-building nutrients necessary for good health. The result: the Standard American Diet (SAD) promotes disease.
Long-term observational studies demonstrate that eating plant foods is the most important factor in preventing chronic disease. Children who eat few vegetables get sick more often.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”left” source_author=”Joel Fuhrman MD” source_title=”Super Immunity” full_quote=”In most cases, a virus when exposed to a healthy well-nourished body would be harmless. A healthy body is highly resistant to viral attack. It’s been demonstrated that when children eat more vegetables, they have fewer infections. The same healthy diet that protects against the flu also protects against many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and other diseases…Our vulnerability to the initial virus and our inability to fight it once we’ve become exposed is directly affected by the quality of our diet prior to being exposed. Nutrition makes us more susceptible to viruses and significantly impacts the length and severity of an illness.” short_quote=”It’s been demonstrated that when children eat more vegetables, they have fewer infections. “]
As parents we choose aim to be consistent and firm – eating vegetables and fruits is not optional. The first year or two I worked hard to motivate her and convince her. Now she genuinely takes pleasure in eating fruits and vegetables; it’s usually the first thing she eats on her plate.
I don’t believe in extremes, and generally nothing is banned. A basic rule in our house is no white flour or white sugar during the week. Occasionally she gets Goldfish or Oreos, candy and cookies. Birthday parties are a free-for-all. But the core part of our daily meals consists of natural, whole foods. We give thanks before our meals. We celebrate the pleasure of different flavors, colors and textures, and notice how very lucky we are that we can eat so much fresh, delicious foods.
Some great recipes to help children eat more vegetables:
For more food empowerment: