Time for a mid-week rant.
NPR did a story about what a great idea it is to get kids to eat vegetables at school by adding vegetable puree to the school lunch cheese sauce at lunch time. There’s a whole movement, including cookbooks, on how to get your child to eat vegetables by hiding them in brownies, cakes, cheese sauces, etc. I can’t even begin to express how much I loathe this entire idea. It’s faulty from it’s toes to it’s nose, it’s destructive, and it’s just stupid.
What, exactly, does this teach children about healthy eating? Nothing. They don’t learn to make appropriate food choices, they don’t learn to like healthy food. In fact, they don’t even learn what “healthy food” actually is, because as far as they’re concerned, they’re not eating it. It does teach them, however, that they don’t have to ever eat anything green. It teaches them that yes, “healthy” foods must taste crappy or why would we have to hide them? It also teaches them that they are correct when they assume they should get everything they want, that they should be catered to.
Here’s a radical thought: don’t hide children’s vegetables. Instead, let’s serve them well-cooked, healthy vegetables and then, like adults, make sure they eat them.
This is going to get really controversial, and it’s not going to be sugar coated. I am tired of all the namby-pamby advice about how to get kids to eat well. It’s not that complicated.
-Be a parent. We need to stop pandering to children. Parents get to control your child’s diet, the child does not. Do parents let kids control the finances simply because they want to? Do parents let kids skip school because “they don’t like it?” So why in the world do they let their children control their food. Look, kids are NOT going to starve themselves to death because they’re not fed their three favorite foods every night. They CAN go to bed without dinner and not wake up emaciated and ready to die, no matter how big a fit they throw to the contrary. No one should starve their child, obviously, but unless a child has an emotional or intellectual disability, they aren’t going to starve to death because they are only presented with healthy options for dinner every night.
-Children are smart, and will manipulate you if you let them. Most of the kids who are “picky eaters” have learned that if they say “I don’t like this food,” someone will get up and make them a favorite food instead. They have adults trained. This is a great racket, right? This has got to stop. It’s not appropriate parenting, and it’s not doing the child any favors in the long run.
-There is a difference in “don’t like” and “not favorite.” Everyone has things they don’t like. Most people have 3-5 general things they don’t like. A child who *only* likes 3-5 thing and “doesn’t like” everything else knows how to get what they want. Most of the time, when a child says they don’t like something, what they actually mean is they prefer something else. Time for a valuable life lesson: Too Darn Bad. We Don’t Always Get What We Want In Life.
-Kids learn to like what they’re fed. As I’ve said a thousand times, children in India are not born liking curry, children in Japan do not come from the womb craving udon, and kids from Louisiana aren’t genetically predisposed to loving jambalaya. Children like their ethnic/cultural cuisine because it’s what they’re fed when young (and, if a child of one ethnicity/culture is adopted as a baby someone from another culture, that child does not grow up craving it’s birth-parents home cooking). A child isn’t going to learn to like legumes if they never eat them.
-Kids eat what their parents eat. Simple as that. Just like smoking or drinking, parents need to look at what they’re eating in front of their children.
There are other things, such as it’s been proven that children who help grow and cook vegetables are far more likely to choose to eat them. Or, that children who are taught to cook tend to eat a wider variety of healthy foods. But, the main point is this: Children are children. They do not get to make the decision on whether or not they eat their vegetables. That is what parents are for. Hiding healthy food in “unhealthy” food teaches children bad eating habits, poor decision making skills, and that they don’t have to do anything they’d rather not do.
2/3 of the children in the US are obese. Most of these children will grow up to be obese adults, with all the health issues and concerns that go along with that. This problem will not be solved by hiding vegetables in cheese sauce.
- 5 ways to get your kids to eat their veggies (sfgate.com)
- Kerry Trueman: Let’s Ask Marion Nestle: Is Stealth The Way To Healthy Eating for Kids? (huffingtonpost.com)
- 5 Simple Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Vegetables (thehappyhousewife.com)
- Children’s Veggie Intake Doubles with Education, Role-Modelling and Popeye (diet-blog.com)