These words are uttered every day in my house. I am sure that you all hear some version of that in your home too. If it were up to my kids they would grab some Cheez-its, Pirate Booty popcorn, or a Z-bar and go merrily on their way. They would not even make an effort to reach into the fruit bowl for an apple or banana and you can be sure carrot sticks or celery would be the last thing on the list. And when it comes to lunch it’s every parent’s hope that when our kids aren’t with us that they are eating not only their favorite part of their lunch but eating those orange, green, or red items served on the tray.
Growing up not having ever tried brussel sprouts or eggplant I wanted to ensure that my kids had a different experience … try everything. Not only did I know it was good for them but how would Camryn ever become a Chef if she didn’t know what they all tasted like? So I took a two pronged approach- start feeding them more vegetables and growing our own.
At the start of 2013, I could guarantee that neither of my kids ate the veggies that were packed in their lunch or served in the cafeteria. Those carrot sticks remained in the crumpled brown bag at the bottom of the backpack and the green beans got tossed in the trash when the tray was sent back. Not to mention the battles that occurred at my dinner table; the holding of the nose to chew on broccoli, chasing every bite of asparagus with a shot of milk, and even the occasional fake gagging on a snap pea has graced the stage otherwise known as my dining room table. It’s beyond frustrating after a long day at work and then putting together a healthy meal. I was desperate to make a change in my house for the health and nutrition of my kids.
Now came the tough part: the follow through.
I made sure that every meal had a vegetable and that both kids ate at least some portion of them. Not only did they have to try them they had to try them more than once. It is said that a kid needs to try a vegetable at least six times, at six different times, before they develop a taste for it. During dinner time if vegetables aren’t eaten there are no seconds of anything else and no snacks later, including dessert.
Once I adopted this course of action I was fascinated to see that within a month my kids were eating vegetables I never dreamed they would eat! Spaghetti squash, fennel, brussel sprouts (Donovan’s favorite food now), yep all of them. And within the year the feigning of digestive trauma at the dinner table has diminished to the occasional Camryn moment, which I am pretty sure she is just working on for her acting skills for Broadway one day.
The change in my kids eating habits didn’t happen overnight but through a consistent offering of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy options. It took patience.
Now this spring, with the move to our new home that I have mentioned in previous posts, we have the space to grow our own vegetables. We built a garden and planted some of our family favorites: brussel sprouts, eggplant, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce. We made food more attainable and it’s even Camryn’s chore to water the garden on the days Mother Nature doesn’t help her out. They are involved. They are participating in growing the food they eat. They are the little farmers.
It is up to us to be our children’s biggest advocate. That means both at home and at school. Make sure the nutritional standards at school are the same if not better than what you have at home. Don’t let schools off the hook. They provide menus full of a la carte items that are chock full of sugar, sodium, and fat and politicians in Washington are even trying to roll back the recently implemented higher standards. Let’s get the junk and fast food out of our schools and bring in fresh food from local farms. No matter where you live there is a farm within an hours drive. Our kids need to see where their food comes from and have repeated exposure to adopt vegetables as a part of their lifestyle. It needs to be a community effort because if it’s not, our children are going to struggle for decades to come.
Aryanna Hunter is an Iraq War veteran, mother of two, member of The Truman National Security Project, President of One Push Up, a non-profit organization designed to empower veterans out of poverty, and writes from her blog A Broad Sense