First things first: I don’t have a kid. I am not a parent, and my 7-year-old nephew is the type of kid who says things like, “That has too much salt content, it’s not good for me,” so I have never really had to fight much to get kids I’m around listen regarding food. However, I volunteer at a homeless shelter for families and yesterday at dinner, there were multiple kids who weren’t eating the healthier foods. They got distracted or excited or simply didn’t want what was there, and it was really difficult for myself or the parents to change their minds. When it comes to how people get kids to eat vegetables and whatnot, I am a bit clueless. Fortunately, I woke up today to this lovely little piece on the topic!
According to NPR’s poll with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, more parents are making rules for mealtime:
25 percent of families tell their children to eat everything on their plate, and 45 percent report setting restrictions on the types of foods eaten. Increasingly common are rules like “clean your plate,” as well as newer strictures such as “no second helpings of potatoes,” “no dessert until you eat your vegetables” and “sodas and chips only on special occasions.”
I know when I was a kid, my parents certainly tried to push us to eat better by making us clear our plates before we could have dessert. Granted, this was difficult since all of us were incredibly picky eaters (including with regard to dessert), but we were still obligated to. Unfortunately, this technique may be more detrimental than beneficial to a kid’s diet, says Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University. He states that making kids eat certain foods prior to dessert “makes it seem like there’s something wrong with eating vegetables, and that you have to swallow medicine before you get to the good part.”
Another registered dietitian, Kristi King, of Texas Children’s Hospital (and spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) notes that in studies where kids are told to finish something, they actually eat less food than if they’re not told how much to consume. Kind of backwards-seeming, right? Instead, King recommends ideas like “Try It Tuesdays” where parents and kids try out new types of food together to figure out what new, healthy options they like.
Also — and this will likely come with no shock to any of you — kids copy what they see parents doing at home. King recalls:
“I had a parent who came into clinic not too long ago, and I said, ‘OK, what’s our goal for being here today?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Make him eat vegetables!’ And, my question back was, ‘Well, do you eat vegetables?’ And his answer was, ‘No, I don’t like them.’ ”
Dad mentioned he loved grilling, so King suggested he try that with vegetables. By their next visit, he’d become an avid veggie griller.
While we may not all love vegetables (personally, I can only eat most of them raw unless it’s in something very spicy or crisp), they are still absolutely wonderful for our bodies, and they’re important to integrate into children’s diets early on. Rather than continuing to push kids to eat certain foods, it seems that experts believe it’s best to:
- Incorporate them into the choosing and preparing of food.
- Lead by example.
- Not push or insist on children to consume foods they may be opposed to.
Photo: Mali / Flickr