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Getting Kids to Eat Their Vegetables
By Britney Hermiz :: Thursday, February 21, 2008 :: 51974 Views :: Health & Fitness

Want your kids to eat their veggies? Start offering them when they're tiny babies, and don't take a grimace to mean "No."  Think Chaldean babies receive enough vegetables in their diet?  Think again. 

Mennella, an expert on food choices at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia recently had 45 mothers spoon-feed their babies puréed green beans once daily. Half the group also offered puréed peaches afterward. At first, the babies who got peaches ate more peaches than beans; after eight days, both groups were eating green beans and had increased their consumption twofold. "They'll wrinkle their noses," Mennella says, "but they still continue to eat."

The babies who were breast-fed also ate more peaches than formula-fed babies, perhaps because their mothers ate more fruit than non-breastfeeding moms. This echoes Mennella's earlier research, in which babies born to women who drank carrot juice in the third trimester favored cereal made with carrot juice, as did babies whose mothers drank carrot juice while breast-feeding. "It's really a fundamental feature of all mammals," Mennella says. "It's the first way we learn about foods and flavors."

You have heard Chaldean grandmothers telling their daughters to eat some baklava to sweeten breast milk.  Mannella’s research seems to prove the wise words.

Sweets, please. It's clear that children favor what their parents eat.  When it comes to eating vegetables, that's a problem, since most adults, including Chaldeans don't eat the recommended two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily. All humans relish fat and sugar, because they're the most concentrated sources of energy in a world where, until very recently, hunger and famine were threats to almost everyone.

In America it's easy to supersize the fat and carbs, and still hard to choose celery over cookies. Nutritionists are well aware that parents aren't always the best role models when it comes to healthful eating, and schools have lately tried to do a better job of encouraging wise choices, by putting water in vending machines and fresh fruit in the lunch line.

The U.S. Congress is now considering a federal ban on the sale of candy, sodas, and salty fatty food in school vending machines and cafeterias. The eat-your-veggies war has escalated recently, fueled by two new books that encourage parents to sneak vegetables into treats like brownies and chocolate pudding.

Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (wife of the comedian Jerry) and The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine have evoked howls from chefs and nutritionists for suggesting that slipping puréed cauliflower into macaroni and cheese (or mashed sweet potatoes into hot cocoa!) is a good idea. There are two big problems here. One, this sends kids the message that brownies are sustenance, not an occasional treat. And two, it never gives children the chance to learn to appreciate vegetables for their own merits.

"You can't mask the flavor if the goal is to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables," Mennella argues. All the research points to this commonsense realization: the earlier and broader a child's experience with a wide variety of foods, the more healthful the diet.

A new book, Food Fights by pediatricians Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu, offers practical strategies that are much more appealing than veggie subterfuge like requiring a "no (more), thank you" bite to audition new foods.

Many Chaldean parents will despair when the lunch bag comes home at the end of the day with carrots and apple unmunched. But taking Mennella's suggestion to heart might just do the trick.  If Chaldean parents ooh and ah over the deliciousness of spinach salad, the preschooler will smack her lips as she pops leaves into her mouth. Other ideas to dress up veggies include offering a healthy dip like hummus or yogurt. 

Chaldean parents and grandparents may want to reconsider giving sweet candy treats.  Instead offer nuts or dried fruits.  The difference is having a healthier child or one prone to obesity and a host of ills, both mental and physical.